CAIRO: An Australian journalist with satellite news channel Al Jazeera on trial in Egypt yesterday described his ordeal as a “massive injustice”, after spending more than four months in jail. The award-winning Peter Greste is on trial with 19 co-defendants, including five Al Jazeera journalists, for allegedly defaming the country and ties to the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood.
Yesterday’s hearing coincided with World Press Freedom Day.
“We recognise the significance of the coincidence of this trial falling on World Press Freedom Day. This is a very clear message,” Greste said from a caged dock at the court in Cairo.
The Peabody Award-winning journalist, who previously worked with the BBC, also branded the trial “a massive injustice, regardless of the outcome”. Most of the defendants are being tried in absentia. The Al Jazeera journalists in the dock along with Greste are the Qatar-owned broadcaster’s English channel Cairo bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy and producer Baher Mohamed.
Following the hearing, which the judge adjourned to May 15, a court extended the detention of another jailed Al Jazeera journalist arrested in August for a further 45 days.
Abdullah Elshamy, a journalist with the broadcaster’s Arabic network, has been on hunger strike since January, according to his family.
“I haven’t seen my lawyer. We are 15 people in a cell of 12 square metres (130 square feet),” Elshamy, who appeared gaunt, told reporters from the dock.
Police arrested him on August 14 when they dispersed two protest camps in Cairo demanding the reinstatement of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Mursi, killing hundreds of people in clashes. Elshamy has been held without formal charges.
The trial has sparked an international outcry and calls for the release of the journalists, while Cairo insists the trial does not presage a wider crackdown on the media.
In a letter from prison published on Friday, Mohamed Fahmy said he was on trial for doing his job.
“I write you this letter on World Press Freedom Day from my cell after 126 days of incarceration for doing nothing more than the job I love,” wrote the Canadian-Egyptian dual citizen.