CAIRO - An Egyptian court is to deliver its verdict in the trial of Al-Jazeera journalists accused of aiding the ‘blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood’ in a case that has sparked an international outcry.
Since the army ousted President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, the authorities have been incensed by the Qatari network's coverage of their deadly crackdown on his supporters. They consider Al-Jazeera as the voice of Qatar, and accuse Doha of backing Morsi's Brotherhood. Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and producer Baher Mohamed, who work for Al-Jazeera English, have been tried with 17 others on charges of "spreading false news" and having Brotherhood links. The three have been detained for nearly six months, along with six others.
Al-Jazeera says only nine of the 20 defendants are on its staff, including two foreign reporters who are abroad. A Dutch journalist, who is not working with the channel, is also among the defendants. At least 16 are Egyptians accused of belonging to the Brotherhood, which the military-installed government designated a "terrorist organisation" in December. The four foreigners are also alleged to have collaborated with and assisted their Egyptian co-defendants by providing media material, as well as editing and broadcasting it.
"On June 23, the entire world will be watching Egypt to see whether they uphold the values of press freedom," Al-Jazeera said. On Sunday, US Secretary of State John Kerry also called for freedom of the press to be upheld in Egypt as he made a surprise visit to the Cairo. Kerry said that he discussed with Egyptian officials "the essential role of a vibrant civil society, free press, rule of law and due process in a democracy". Prosecutors have demanded the maximum penalty for all defendants. The 16 Egyptians could be jailed for 25 years, while the foreigners could get 15 years, their lawyers say.
Since the start of the trial on February 20, rights groups have expressed concerns over media restrictions in Egypt. "What the Egyptian authorities are doing is vindictive persecution of journalists for merely doing their jobs," said Amnesty International. During the hearings the defendants have denounced the trial as "unfair and political", charging evidence had been "fabricated". Prosecutors showed video from a tourism report not even produced by Al-Jazeera, as well as images and audio recordings in which the defendants are alleged to have falsely portrayed a "civil war".
The authorities say that the accused were operating in Egypt without valid accreditation. Greste and Fahmy were arrested in a hotel room in Cairo on December 29. Greste formerly worked with the BBC and won the 2011 Peabody Award for a documentary on Somalia. Fahmy, the Cairo bureau chief of Al-Jazeera English who previously worked with CNN, has no known Brotherhood ties. Monday's expected rulings come nearly a week after authorities released Abdullah Elshamy, another Jazeera journalist who works for the network's main Arabic channel.