CAIRO (AP) — One of the Al-Jazeera English journalists held in Egypt made a rare appeal Saturday outside of the defendants’ cage, as the judge trying him and his colleagues wished them a “happy” World Press Freedom Day before ordering them back to jail.
Canadian-Egyptian acting bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy stood before Judge Mohamed Nagi Shehata and explained that journalists have to speak to all sides to do their jobs. But the judge again denied the journalists bail and set their next hearing for May 15.
Fahmy, along with Australian correspondent Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, all face charges of being part of a terrorist group and airing falsified footage intended to damage Egyptian national security. Doha-based Al-Jazeera and the journalists have denied the allegations.
Their arrest comes as part of a greater crackdown on the press and the Muslim Brotherhood, from which toppled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi hails. The journalists face trial on the charges with 17 others. Al-Jazeera Arabic service journalist Abdullah Elshamy has been held without charges since August after being arrested separately.
In his brief appeal, Fahmy said he had good contacts in the Egyptian army, the police and the intelligence services. Fahmy later told journalists covering the hearing that he mentioned that because of prosecutors previously showing a picture of Fahmy standing by Morsi. He said there were pictures of him with other veteran politicians that the court did not show.
Fahmy also asked the judge to release them before Egypt’s upcoming May presidential election. When the judge asked Fahmy if he wanted to cover the vote, Fahmy simply said he wanted to get out of prison.
At the end of his remarks, Fahmy wished the judge a “Happy World Press Freedom Day.” Shehata responded the same way.
In a shouted exchange between journalists covering the hearing and the defendants, Fahmy said that he had not seen his legal team in two weeks and had not had a chance to review the evidence against him with his lawyer.
Greste added that there was “no evidence” against the three and that they were “very frustrated with the system.”
In previous hearings, prosecutors offered video clips found with the journalists about an animal hospital with donkeys and horses, and another about Christian life in Egypt as evidence of their crimes. Defense lawyers and even the judge dismissed the footage as irrelevant.
A worldwide campaign has protested the detention of journalists in Egypt. In a letter sent to Egyptian President Adly Mansour in January, the Committee to Protect Journalists called on the government to release all detained journalists. The committee said at the time at least five journalists had been killed, 45 assaulted, 44 detained and 11 news outlets raided in Egypt since Morsi’s overthrow.
As the Al-Jazeera journalists left the hearing, they chanted “Happy World Press Freedom Day,” which is celebrated Saturday. Their colleagues covering the hearing shouted back words of encouragement.