Al Jazeera staff face court on free press day

Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed to attend a court hearing, coinciding with World Press Freedom Day.

    Three Al Jazeera journalists who have been locked up in Egyptian prisons for more than four months, are due to attend their seventh hearing session in Cairo, on the same day as World Press Freedom Day.

    The Doha-based network's Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed, are accused of spreading false news and aligning with the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that ruled Egypt during the one-year tenure of president Mohamed Morsi, but has been designated a "terrorist group" after his removal in a military takeover in July.

    While Al Jazeera's reporters case has long since stirred global outcry with claims of it being politically-driven, concerns over press freedom and judicial procedures in Egypt have mounted as observers of the trial confirm the court's inability to pinpoint any wrongdoing committed by the trio.

    "The evidence that has been shown so far have been uncontroversial, unfinished news reports by Al Jazeera, and some of it has been footage that has nothing to do with the case whatsoever, including footage of Peter Greste in Somalia when he was with the BBC," Sharif Kouddous, Cairo-based correspondent of Democracy Now, told Al Jazeera's Stefanie Dekker.

    "This is the landmark and key evidence that the prosecution has presented," he said.

    However, Egypt's foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, defended the process in an interview with US talk show Charlie Rose, citing two letters sent by the interim president, Adly Mansour, to the families of two of Al Jazeera's imprisoned journalists.

    "You haven't done this, even in your system. Our president sent letters to the families of two of the accused because he wanted, even though he's a judge, he wanted to assure them that there would be due process," Fahmy said in the interview.

    "I can't legally comment on it until it finishes the appeal process," he said, adding that "if a journalist commits a crime, he does not have immunity."

    But while court investigates charges levelled against Al Jazeera English's three journalists, Abdullah Elshamy, a reporter working for the Arabic sister channel, has been jailed without charge since last August. He has been on hunger strike for more than 100 days in protest. 

    "This is an unprecedented case," Sherif Mansour, of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told Al Jazeera. His organisation has ranked Egypt as the world's third deadliest country for journalists in 2013.

    "We have never seen it globally, that any government goes after an international news network for nothing more than doing their work and also using terrorism related charges to keep them in custody without evidence," he said.

    Al Jazeera rejects all charges and accusations against its staff. The network urges Egypt's government to take the opportunity of World Press Freedom Day to immediately release its journalists.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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