CAIRO: A few hours separate Al-Jazeera journalists from hearing their final verdict after more than a year and a half of legal struggle; half of which were spent in prison over terror charges; widely denounced by international media bodies.
A retrial has been running since February, after jail sentences against Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and deported Australian Peter Greste were abolished in January.
Hoping to be exonerated from “unprecedented legal limbo,” Fahmy and Mohamed will show up at court on July 30 for final hearing.
They are accused of belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood group, broadcasting false news and operating without licenses. Lawyers cited shallow evidences in the accusations.
Here are some of the lawyers’ arguments:
1- Journos charged retroactively over joining banned group.
The trio was arrested in December 2013; four months before the Brotherhood was officially designated as ‘terrorist’ organization in April 2014, Fahmy’s lawyer, Khaled Abu Bakr said during his closing argument.
2-Affiliations with the Brotherhood not proved.
Lawyers described the accusation of belonging to the Brotherhood group as baseless and vague, questioning “criteria of making someone a Brotherhood.”
“It is really annoying to judge anybody by his father or his relative,” Baher Mohamed voiced his rejection to be linked to his father’s affiliation with the group.
3-Seized video contents proved ‘uncontrived’
The prosecutor argued that journalists manipulated the content with fake sound effects and insertions by the network’s headquarters in Qatar. A report issued by a technical committee assigned by the court contradicted the accusations, saying “seized videos were not fabricated.”
4-‘Broadcasting is a must to prove crime occurred’
The above quotation is an extract from the closing argument delivered by Bakr, who cited the technical committee’s report saying “it cannot determine whether seized videos were aired.”
5- Journalists’ job is to meet everyone.
When a picture of Fahmy with Al-Qaeda leader in Egypt Mohamed al-Zawahiri was raised by the prosecution, Bakr said in his defense that “reporters’ job is to meet with everyone” regardless to their background and that it does not mean a journalist is adopting certain political affiliations.
6- Journalists, other defendants should be separated.
“We never met the students until we saw them in prison,” Fahmy told The Cairo Post via e-mail.
All lawyers in the case demanded journalists to be separated from other defendants, including students who had “confessed they are Brotherhood members and sold footages to Al-Jazeera network,” he added.
Fahmy was accused of forming a media center at the Cairo Mariott Hotel and of recruiting students; he denied accusations and described them as “big fabrications.”
“I told the judge you have our mobiles, laptops, for months, did you find a single email, contact between we journalists and the student activists?” Fahmy said.
7- Reporters not responsible for ‘Licenses’
“I had asked Al-Jazeera to accredit us with press passes from the press centre and they stalled…failed to do so and it was a point that the judge in this trial really focused on, but still it’s not a crime, yet the judge sees it as challenging the government and not respecting the laws,” Fahmy said.
According to lawyers in the case, the more serious issue of lack of operational and broadcast license is considered an obstacle in the case, which could entail a one to three year sentence and or a hefty fine. “Baher and myself were shocked in the cage as the prosecutor submitted a report to the judge indicating that all operational licenses for Al Jazeera’s channels in Egypt had been revoked months before our arrest. I had clearly asked Al Jazeera upon taking the job if their operation was fully legal and received written assurances that everything was in place,” Fahmy explained.
He and his lawyer defended this point asking judge to “separate between responsibilities of the journalist and the channel.” Business and Media Tycoon, owner of ONTV, Naguib Sawiris, who was cross-examined as character witness defending Fahmy, has endorsed this argument.
8- The 3-year bullet was a ‘souvenir’
Unlike Fahmy and Greste, Mohamed was sentenced to extra three-year jail term over possession of a single bullet, which was not examined by court whether it was real. He and his lawyer explained that he took the bullet as a “souvenir” when he was covering Libya’s 2011 revolution for a Japanese newspaper.
9- Unserious investigations
In reiteration to Egypt’s high court, lawyers also highlighted “flaws” prior to the journalists’ arrest, citing “unserious and invalid” pre-detention investigations.