Jazeera trial descends into farce

March 06, 2014 - 4:20:41 am

Australian journalist Peter Greste (left) of Al Jazeera and his colleagues stand inside the defendants cage during their trial for allegedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood at Cairo’s Tora prison, yesterday.

CAIRO: The second day of the trial of three Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt descended into farce yesterday as the prosecution presented the entire contents of their raided hotel rooms as evidence, and one of the trio’s 17 co-defendants said he did not understand what the trial was about.

Australian ex-BBC correspondent Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian ex-CNN journalist Mohamed Fahmy, and local producer Baher Mohamed are among 20 people on trial in Egypt on charges of spreading misinformation and aiding terrorists.  The case has sparked international outcry, and been portrayed worldwide as a serious attack on Egyptian press freedom.

But the case took a tragicomic turn, as prosecutors presented box after box of everyday items and broadcast equipment as evidence of the defendants’ alleged terrorism — many of them as innocuous as electric cables, a computer keyboard, and a bumbag belonging to Peter Greste.

At one point judge Mohamed Nagy lost count of the number of cameras he had been shown, and struggled to open two of the suitcases in which the evidence was contained. 

The case has centred on the three jailed Al Jazeera journalists, as well as other international colleagues being tried in absentia. But yesterday’s session also shone a rare light on some of the other defendants, some of whom have nothing to do with Al Jazeera.

Sohaib Said, a political science student, interrupted proceedings to say that he had been tortured in custody, denied family visits for over 40 days, and did not understand why he was involved in the case.  

In the second half of the session, defence lawyers cross-examined the secret policemen who had investigated the journalists. One admitted he did not know the difference between Al Jazeera English, for whom the three detained journalists worked, and the channel’s Egyptian offshoot. The trial continues.

The Guardian