CAIRO: Seven- to ten-year prison sentences were handed down to 20 accused in what is known in most English media as the Al Jazeera case, and referred to in Egypt as the “Mariott Cell case” last year.
The trial was “marred with deficiencies in cause, corruption in establishment, violation to defense’s right and overwhelmed by invalidity,” according to a report by Egypt’s Court of Cassation, which also said the sentences “lacked evidence.”
The sentences were initially issued in June 2014 and annulled in January 2015, with a retrial date scheduled on Feb. 12.
The report said that terrorism-related charges, directed to the defendants, were not proved; the first verdict stated that the defendants used “information systems for terrorist purposes.”
To be proved as involved in a terrorist act, the report said that “use of violence or direct threatening” are conditions stipulated in Article 86 in the Penal Code, and that ‘publicizing for a certain group’ is not a terrorist act.
Three Al-Jazeera journalists; Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, faced charges of spreading false news that would endanger Egypt’s national security and aid a banned group, in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. Al Jazeera has been widely perceived as a mouthpiece for the Brotherhood, which was declared a terrorist organization just days before the trio’s arrest in December 2013.
Defense’s requests violated
The report said that the Giza Criminal Court, headed by Judge Nagy Shehata, “rushed” to issue the verdict before receiving a report from the forensic medicine department confirming whether the defendants were forced to confess under torture.
A medical check was requested by some defendants’ lawyers who said their clients were tortured in order to admit they committed the crimes they are accused of.
Lawyer Shaaban Saeed, the defense of two students accused in the same case told The Cairo Post that he appealed the court’s ignorance to the medical report.
The report also said that the prosecution’s decision for the arrest and inspection was “void” as it was based on “unserious investigations,” which violates the law; the law allows arrest and inspection when the crime happened actually with enough evidences to intervene a person’s freedom or home.
Seized ammunition, including a single bullet that was found with Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Baher, and caused him to have three extra years on his sentence, were not examined to verify if they were real.
During investigations, Baher said that he found the bullet in the streets during a previous demonstration, and that he took it as souvenir.
Flaws during court proceedings
The Giza Criminal Court violated the law, the Court of Cassation stated, by returning the case’s evidence exhibits to the prosecution to be examined and filtered for presentation during the court hearings. The report also said that the prosecution, an investigation authority, cannot intervene in case proceedings after being referred to the court.
During previous hearings, the court presented some videos and recordings, including songs, personal footages and documentaries filmed by Al-Jazeera journalists in other countries, which many human rights organization and journalist organizations stated were irrelevant to the case.