CAIRO: Al Jazeera’s Australian reporter Peter Greste, on trial in Egypt with fellow journalists, said in court yesterday that he and his colleagues have spent three months in jail on “baseless” charges.
Greste was speaking to reporters from a caged dock as the court heard testimonies from five witnesses, including three security officers. The case, in which 17 others are also charged, has sparked an international outcry and fuelled fears of a crackdown on the press by Egypt’s military-installed authorities.
Greste and two other journalists with Al Jazeera English are charged with spreading false news and supporting the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood of deposed president Mohamed Mursi.
“We haven’t seen any evidence in the court that possibly justify the charges or our imprisonment. We spent three months in prison based on baseless charges,” Greste said. Security personnel were deployed outside the caged dock and the defendants, including Al Jazeera English bureau chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, wore white prison uniforms.
Greste and Canadian-Egyptian Fahmy were arrested in December in a Cairo hotel suite they used as a bureau after their offices were raided by police. Police later leaked footage of the arrest and an interrogation with Fahmy, in which he tried to explain to them how journalists work.
“We want to be free. We didn’t do anything wrong,” Fahmy told reporters at yesterday’s hearing. Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour has pledged to help resolve the controversial trial, in letters written to the families of Greste and Fahmy.
“The letters from the president are very important. They guarantee the trial will be fair and they state the judiciary is independent,” Fahmy said. The trial was adjourned to March 31.
The prosecution insists the journalists colluded with the Muslim Brotherhood and falsely sought to portray Egypt in a state of “civil war.” Before joining Doha-based Al Jazeera, Greste worked for the BBC. He received the prestigious Peabody Award in 2011 for a documentary on Somalia. Fahmy previously worked for CNN.
Baher Mohamed, their producer is also on trial, while Britons Sue Turton and Dominic Kane, and Dutch journalist Rena Netjes — who was indicted even though she did not work for the channel — are abroad and being tried in absentia.