By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
Three al-Jazeera reporters were in court for a hearing in Cairo, Egypt where a judge wished them a Happy World Press Freedom Day before denying them bail and remanding them for further proceedings beginning May 15th.
The defendants, al-Jazeera English’s Cairo Bureau Chief Mohamed Fahmy, Reporter Peter Greste, and Producer Baher Mohamed have been incarcerated since December and are accused of creating false news, slandering Egypt’s reputation, and aiding terrorists. Prosecutors have been attempting to show that al-Jazeera is aiding the banned organization the Muslim Brotherhood, which is considered an enemy of the state.
Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian former CNN journalist, told the judge that it was normal for journalists to have contacts on all sides of the political spectrum – including both supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, their liberal opponents, as well as members of Egypt’s military establishment.
“I have great relations with state security, with the army and the intelligence,” said Fahmy. “That’s normal, that’s journalism, that’s my job.”
After being told of World Press Freedom Day, and about Fahmy’s recent award for his contributions to press freedom, the judge wished him and his co-defendants a “happy World Press Freedom Day”.
During a recess, Peter Greste shouted to reporters from the defendants’ cage: “We recognise the significance of the coincidence of this trial falling on World Press Freedom Day.”
Greste added: “You can’t have a free society without a free press. In Egypt today you know that you can’t provide balance as long as you can end up in prison like us.”
Another al-Jazeera reporter, Abdallah Elshamy who has been incarcerated on an unrelated case since August, remains uncharged. He appeared in court along with dozens of demonstrators arrested during a crackdown on supporters of ousted former president Mohamed Morsi. He appeared severely weakened due to a 103 day hunger strike. He shouted to reporters that he lost 35 kilograms while imprisoned and has been refused medical assistance or acknowledgement his protest. He said he is held in a three by four meter cell with fifteen other men and is only provided access to water for twelve hours per day. He shouted to reporters “Prison is like living in a pit-hole!” Journalists were then removed from the courtroom.
One day it is hoped World Press Freedom Day will be celebrated world wide and not just ignored or even spited. It seems we have a long way to go.
By Darren Smith
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