Browsing 'trial' News

Morsi - European External Action Services-Flickr

Egypt’s former President Mohamed Morsi is going to be tried on charges of handing national security documents to Qatar in exchange for US$1 million, the country’s state prosecutor has announced.

Morsi is being charged along with 10 co-defendants – including Al Jazeera Arabic’s Director of News, Ibrahim Helal.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Doha-based broadcaster said:

“Any information Al Jazeera receives is handled with the highest standard of journalistic ethics. We do not therefore comment on sources, or pass information to governments.”

According to news wire AFP, Egypt’s prosecutor issued a statement yesterday in which he said Morsi and the 10 co-defendants will go on trial for having “handed over to Qatari intelligence documents linked to national security … in exchange for one million dollars (772,000 euros).”

Helal - Al Jazeera - Linkedin

Linkedin

Ibrahim Helal is Al Jazeera Arabic's news director.

The prosecutor went on to describe the case as “the biggest act of treason carried out by the Muslim Brotherhood against the country.” In March this year, Egypt’s Interior Ministry accused Morsi’s ex-Secretary – Amin El-Serafi – of giving “extremely sensitive documents concerning the army, its deployment and weaponry” to an Al Jazeera chief editor and members of the Muslim Brotherhood. No date for the trial has yet been set.

Charges against Morsi

Morsi already faces the death penalty if convicted of charges in cases relating to several other pending trials. One case involves the killing of protesters during his one-year presidency, while in another he is accused of conspiring with foreign powers including Iran to destabilize Egypt. A third relates to a jailbreak during the 2011 uprising that led to former president Hosni Mubarak being deposed. When Morsi was overthrown in July 2013, Egypt’s military rulers outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood, whose supporters have been subjected to a crackdown by the authorities. Human rights activists say this has led to 1,400 people killed and 16,000 others detained. Additionally, relations between Qatar and Egypt have soured, due to Qatar’s links with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Al Jazeera journalists

In June, three Al Jazeera English journalists were given prison sentences after being convicted of charges relating to spreading false news and supporting the Islamist movement.

AJ three Twitter

Al Jazeera Turk/Twitter

Correspondent Peter Greste and producer Mohamed Fahmy were each jailed for seven years, while their producer colleague Baher Mohamed was handed an additional three years for possession of ammunition, for a total sentence 10 years.

Seven other Al Jazeera journalists who were tried in absentia were given 10-year prison sentences.

The three journalists – whose lawyers filed an appeal of their convictions late last month – have now been behind bars for a total of 253 days. Al Jazeera has maintained the innocence of their staff throughout.

Internationally, journalists continue to call for the freedom of their peers, through social media, using the hashtag #FreeAJStaff.

The UK’s Guardian newspaper was one of many news organizations that marked the 250 days with a photograph of their newsroom staff, with mouths gagged and carrying signs bearing the slogan.

Thoughts?

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Al Jazeera Turk / Twitter

There has been international condemnation of an Egyptian court’s verdicts that will see three Al Jazeera journalists imprisoned on charges related to spreading false news and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

Al Jazeera English journalists Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy were each jailed for seven years, whilst their colleague Baher Mohamed was also handed down an additional three-year sentence for possession of ammunition, making his sentence 10 years.

Seven other Al Jazeera journalists who were being tried in absentia were given 10 year prison sentences.

Patrick Kingsley, a reporter for UK newspaper The Guardian, was in court as the verdicts were handed down.

Families

Kingsley described the reactions of some of the journalists’ families, reporting Australian national Greste’s brother Andrew as saying: “I’m just stunned. It’s difficult to comprehend how they can have reached this decision.”

Later, he tweeted:

Kingsley also reported that Fahmy’s mother and fiancée both broke down in tears, while his brother Adel, who traveled from his home in Kuwait for the verdict, reacted with fury:

“This is not a system. This is not a country. They’ve ruined our lives. It shows everything that’s wrong with the system: it’s corrupt. This country is corrupt through and through.”

Fahmy’s mother is reported to have left the court in tears.

International reaction

Several foreign governments and international human rights organizations have also reacted to the verdict.

The UK Foreign Office has announced that it has summoned the Egyptian ambassador in London over the sentencing. Two of the journalists convicted in absentia, Sue Turton and Dominic Kane, are British nationals.

British Foreign Minister William Hague has said he is “appalled” by the verdict.

The Dutch government has also summoned the Egyptian Ambassador to the Netherlands, and said that it will “raise the matter” with European Union colleagues. Dutch journalist Rena Netjes was also convicted in absentia this morning.

Meanwhile, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop gave a media statement stating that the Greste family were currently seeking legal advice, which may include a legal appeal.

Bishop said the Australian government was also hoping to “initiate contact” with the Egyptian President “to see if we can gain some kind of intervention”.

She told journalists: “We are shocked by this verdict. “Freedom of the press is fundamental in a democracy. We are deeply concerned that this verdict is part of a broader attempt to muzzle the media freedom [in Egypt].”

The Australian journalists’ union MEAA immediately issued a statement condemning the verdicts, saying it called on Egyptian authorities to “urgently intervene to free the three journalists who have been detained for simply doing their jobs”. The full statement can be viewed here.

And Mohamed Lofty, an observer for Amnesty International, is reported to have said:

The Qatari government has not yet issued an official statement on today’s verdict.

Al Jazeera’s view

Throughout the trial, and following the verdict, Al Jazeera has maintained that its journalists are innocent.

Al Jazeera’s Acting Director General Mostefa Souag has said that the channel is “outraged, very angry and very shocked” at the verdicts.

The Doha-based broadcaster said it would continue its campaign to free its staff. Al Jazeera English Managing Director Al Anstey issued a statement, in which he described the verdict as one which “defies logic, sense and any semblance of justice”:

“There is no justification whatsoever in the detention of our three colleagues for even one minute.  To have detained them for 177 Days is an outrage. To have sentenced them defies logic, sense, and any semblance of justice.”

A full version of the statement can be viewed here. Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton was one of the journalists who was tried and sentenced in absentia today.  Speaking on Al Jazeera English, she said:

“This has frozen us. But that’s nothing compared to being incarcerated and looking at years in prison. The world can not turn away from this. Just keep pushing.”

Twitter support Thousands of messages of support appeared on Twitter, under the hashtags #FreeAJStaff, #Journalismisnotacrime  and #AJTrial within just minutes of the verdict. These included support from journalists around the world.

Thoughts?

AJ three Bel Trew

Bel Trew/Twitter

Three Al Jazeera journalists were found guilty of spreading false news and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in a Cairo court this morning.

Australian journalist Peter Greste of Al Jazeera English, and his colleagues – local producer Baher Mohamed and Egyptian bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy – were jailed for seven years each by Judge Mohamed Nagy.

Baher Mohamed was also sentenced to an additional three years in jail for possessing ammunition – apparently a bullet.

A further 10 defendants who were being tried in absentia were each given sentences of 10 years in jail.

On hearing the verdict, Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed stood in silence, with arms round each others’ shoulders in solidarity, according to BBC correspondent Christian Fraser.

He added on Twitter that Greste hit the caged dock after the verdicts were read out.

Charges

The three men have been in Tora prison since they were arrested in their Cairo hotel room on Dec. 29.

They were charged with defaming Egypt and endangering national security, doctoring footage and for affiliating with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has now been branded a terrorist group.

Throughout their 177 days in prison, the trio vehemently denied all allegations against them.

This was their 13th hearing in the Cairo courtroom. Throughout their trial, which has been ongoing since Feb. 20 and has been beset by delays, the three have spent most of their time locked in a metal cage.

They entered the packed courtroom at around 10am today and gave “brave smiles and waves” from their caged dock before the verdict.

Journalists reported some defendants shouting “hurriyah” (freedom) as they waited for the judge.

Judge Mohamed Nagy entered the courtroom 90 minutes later, just after 11.30am Doha time, and delivered the verdicts.

The three key AJE journalists were tried, along with five students and the leader of a Muslim charity, in an attempt to show that they played a part in a Muslim Brotherhood-connected plot to tarnish Egypt’s reputation. A further 11 defendants were tried in absentia, including six more Al Jazeera staff.

The prosecution’s case against the journalists centered on videos which had been seized in a bid to demonstrate a plot. They included film about horse welfare for Sky News Arabia, a BBC documentary about Somalia and uncut footage of a press conference in Kenya.

International support

There was enormous international support for the journalists throughout their trial, as the proceedings were seen by many as a symbol of tightening media restrictions in Egypt. Ambassadors from UK, Latvia, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands were in court for the verdict this morning, along with representatives from the world’s media.

Political leaders including US Secretary of State John Kerry and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott reportedly spoke about the case with Egypt’s new President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on the eve of the verdict.

On Saturday, the New York Times featured a completely empty back page, with the strapline at the bottom: “This is what happens when you silence journalists. Show your support. Journalism is not a crime. #FreeAJStaff”.

Journalists and human rights campaigners around the world organized demonstrations and press conferences to raise awareness of the men’s case, and many public figures posted photographs of themselves on Twitter with their mouths’ taped and carrying a card with the hashtag #FreeAJStaff.

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Amnesty International

Amnesty International denounced the men’s detention, describing it as a “vindictive persecution of journalists for merely doing their jobs.”

One of Greste’s brothers, Mike, has been in Egypt for many of the hearings and his other brother Andrew flew in to be in court for the verdict.

After visiting Peter Greste in prison last night, Mike Greste told Australian broadcaster ABC News his brother was ” obviously very nervous and anxious, but at the same time (he’s) very composed and level headed about it all.”

Previous hopes

Hopes for the men’s freedom had been raised when their Al Jazeera Arabic colleague Abdullah Elshamy was freed from Cairo’s Scorpion prison on Tuesday of last week, 307 days after being arrested without charge.

He had spent nearly six months on hunger strike.

On his release, he had called for the freedom of his AJE colleagues, and was outside the court for the verdict.

More recently, many observers had hoped that Kerry’s announcement on Sunday of US$575mn of US military aid for Egypt meant that government officials had pledged to free the journalists.

Throughout the trial, the Qatar-based TV channel maintained the innocence of their journalists.

In advance of the verdict, Al Jazeera English’s Managing Director Al Anstey said the journalists were being held “simply for doing their job and carrying out the highest quality journalism.”

Thoughts?