CAIRO, Apr 10 – A Canadian-Egyptian journalist for Al-Jazeera English being tried in Egypt pleaded for his release Thursday, as the prosecution in an unprecedented trial of reporters submitted footage and pictures as evidence.
Three detained journalists with the Qatar-based broadcaster and 17 others people are on trial for alleged links to the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood movement.
They have been in detention for more than 100 days, despite an international outcry and amid fears of a crackdown on the media following the army’s overthrow of Egypt’s Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July.
The court on Thursday studied prosecution charges that the defendants had misrepresented Egypt’s political crisis in their broadcasts.
To show alleged manipulation, footage was aired from the British channel Sky News’s Arabic affiliate, apparently found on a computer in the home of Jazeera producer and defendant Baher Mohamed.
It included a Sky News Arabia report on tourism in Egypt, with a horse munching on fodder in a stable in one scene.
Mohamed’s brother Assem, who worked with Sky News Arabia and was attending the trial in the gallery, told an AFP journalist the footage came from his own laptop, taken by police from his and Mohamed’s house.
The court was also shown seemingly random pictures found in the possession of Australian defendant Peter Greste, including one of his elderly parents.
Greste, a Peabody Award winning journalist who previously worked with the BBC, mockingly laughed from inside his caged dock in a Cairo police academy.
Judge Mohamed Nagi Rushdy dismissed footage found in Greste’s possession of a Kenyan official giving a press conference after a militant attack in Nairobi, where Greste was based.
“This has nothing to do with the case,” he told the prosecutors.
“Today, and all the other hearings, prove that the case completely fell apart,” Greste told AFP from the dock.
Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian who served as Cairo bureau chief for Al-Jazeera English, pleaded for an end to his imprisonment.
“I’ve been in jail for four months,” he yelled out.
“What am I paying the price for? There is no strong evidence against us. These are all Sky News videos. What am I doing in prison,” he told the judge, who adjourned the trial to April 22.
The latest hearing was the fifth in a case which has prompted mounting international calls for the release of the journalists.
Eight defendants, in white prison-issue uniforms, were in court on Thursday, while the other 12 are abroad or have evaded arrest.
The authorities have been incensed by Qatar based Al-Jazeera’s coverage of their crackdown on Morsi supporters which, according to Amnesty, has seen more than 1,400 people killed and thousands jailed.
The court on March 31 rejected a bail plea by the defendants.
Amnesty International has said the three journalists were “prisoners of conscience” and called for their immediate and unconditional release.
“What the Egyptian authorities are doing is vindicative persecution of journalists for merely doing their jobs,” it said Wednesday.
In the trial, 16 Egyptian defendants have been charged with belonging to a “terrorist organisation”.
Four foreigners are accused of “collaborating with the Egyptians by providing them with money, equipment, information… and airing false news aimed at informing the outside world that the country was witnessing a civil war.”
The family of another Al-Jazeera journalist, Abdullah Elshamy, called on Tuesday for his immediate release, saying his health has deteriorated during his eight months in detention.
Elshamy was arrested on August 14 when police dispersed Rabaa al-Adaweya, a massive Islamist protest camp in Cairo, killing hundreds in clashes. He has not yet appeared in court.