CAIRO: Al Jazeera Tuesday described the Saturday absentia sentencing of its Egyptian presenter Ahmed Mansour to 15 years in prison as “unjust targeting” of its journalists.
Mansour was found guilty of torturing a lawyer at Tahrir Square in 2011, a charge viewed by many as political payback against Al Jazeera’s Qatari government ownership and that country’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“This unjust ruling, along with false accusations and criminal charges, is further evidence of the attempt to silence journalists, tarnish their reputations and disrupt their work,” Al Jazeera spokesperson Osama Saeed said in the Tuesday Al Jazeera statement.
The Qatar-based Mansour was tried in absentia. The Egyptian judiciary tends to issue long prison terms for those tried in absentia, and then retries them once they appear in court and challenge the ruling.
“I do not comment on corrupt rulings issued by a corrupt judiciary and a bloody, criminal coup. But for clarification, so everyone knows the extent of corruption in this ruling, judiciary and lawsuit, I do not know any information about the case except the information found in newspapers, like everybody else,” Mansour said Saturday on his Facebook page.
“I have not been addressed in any of the proceedings and sessions during the trial, and there is not one piece of evidence against me. I was not present at the time or place they are talking about at Tahrir Square, and I do not know anything about the plaintiff and have not seen him in my life,” Mansour added.
A history of charged Al Jazeera journalists
Three jailed Al Jazeera English journalists—Baher Mohamed, Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy—are appealing prison terms handed to them in June for “collaborating with the terrorist organization of the Muslim Brotherhood.” Fahmy and Greste received seven years, and Mohamed 10.
Also, Abdullah Elshamy, an Al Jazeera Arabic journalist, was released in June after being in pre-trial detention since August 2013. He went on a long hunger strike before his release, and left Egypt following his exit from prison.
In a September interview with Democracy Now!, he said he will not be returning to Egypt “anytime soon.”
“The atmosphere in the country now is not welcoming for journalism, especially the kind of journalism that’s really after telling the truth,” Elshamy told the program.
Mansour’s codefendants in this latest case are Mohamed el-Beltagy, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, Safwat Hegazy, an Islamist preacher and Hazem Farouq, a former Brotherhood MP. They were all sentenced to 15 years in prison in the case.
Mahmoud al-Khodeiry, former deputy head of the Cassation Court, former Youth Minister Osama Yassin and former MPs Amr Zaki and Mohsen Rady—all of whom are affiliated with the Brotherhood—were also sentenced to three years in prison for being implicated in the torture case.
Osama Kamal, the victim and civil plaintiff, will receive 101,000 EGP ($14,120) from the defendants, according to the ruling.
Kamal filed the lawsuit in 2011, but investigations only began after the military ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. He complained that on Feb. 3, 2011, someone stopped him at the entrance of Tahrir Square and asked for his ID. Since he did not have his ID at the time, a group of men accused him of being a State Security Investigations Service officer and detained him inside a tourist company at the square. He alleged he was then tortured for three days.
Case stems from controversial interview
Protesters during the January 25 Revolution, which led to the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11, 2011, did in fact guard the entrance of their famous sit-in at Tahrir Square by searching and screening the IDs of people coming in.
Mansour’s alleged involvement in the case perhaps stems from an interview he conducted in August 2011. Mansour interviewed Hegazy on his show, “Witness to the Revolution,” and in the interview, Hegazy said that protesters caught a group of “thugs” on Feb. 10, 2011, and asked Mansour, “Do you remember, when we brought them to the room and the youth?”
“Oh, right,” Mansour replied, “but one of them, I heard his confession, he said that he was there for a specific task, to slaughter someone on the podium while TV cameras were filming.”
“Any confession without a court or a prosecution does not count, but I heard their confessions,” Mansour added before continuing, “you (Hegazy) were telling the youth not to beat him, and they told me to ‘come and hear what the man who Dr. Hegazy told us not to beat has to say.’”
After the two of them laughed, Hegazy said, “In fact, I insisted that our revolution remain peaceful. Do you remember the State Security officer that the youths caught?”
“Tell us about this State Security officer, because still, the State Security denies involvement,” Mansour replied.
Similar sentences against security officers remain rare
“Egypt’s notorious state security forces—currently known as National Security (Homeland Security)—are back and operating at full capacity, employing the same methods of torture and other ill-treatment used during the darkest hours of the Mubarak era,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International, in a July statement.
In March 2014, the Alexandria Criminal Court sentenced two officers to 10 years in prison for beating Khaled Said to death in 2010. Said’s death was one of the sparks of the revolution months later. Although a sentence against police officers is rare in Egypt, the ruling was criticized for its “leniency.”
In June, an appeals court ruled in favor of a retrial for an officer who had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for “the serious breach of duty” that led to the death of 37 detainees in August 2013. They suffocated to death in a crammed police vehicle after a tear gas bomb was thrown inside.