Egyptian prosecutors present videos in trial of Al-Jazeera journalists

My latest for the Toronto Star on the sixth court session of the trial of imprisoned Al Jazeera journalists:
CAIRO, EGYPT—Prosecutors in Egypt presented their evidence in a case against a Canadian journalist and his two colleagues in a lengthy court session on Tuesday.

Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian citizen and the acting bureau chief for Al-Jazeera English, was arrested on Dec. 29, along with colleagues Peter Greste, an Australian correspondent, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer. The three have been accused of belonging to or aiding a terrorist organization.

The trio has waited nearly four months in prison to see the videos, which prosecutors said would prove they manipulated footage to smear Egypt’s reputation and benefit the Muslim Brotherhood.

Yet the evidence appeared both uncontroversial and slipshod at best, with much of it presented in a random and unprepared manner.

Projected onto a large screen, the footage included raw interviews and unfinished video reports by various Al-Jazeera English correspondents — many of whom were not named in the case — covering issues ranging from street protests to rising food prices. Audio recordings of students charged alongside the journalists were mostly incomprehensible.

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Egypt’s ‘war on a whole generation’

A feature piece on the brutal crackdown on dissent by the police in Egypt was finally published by the Toronto Star:
On Jan. 25, Nagy Kamel was arrested. He will never forget the next 38 days.

The 26-year-old activist was one of more than 1,000 people rounded up on the third anniversary of Egypt’s 2011 revolution.

At the local Azbakeya police station, he was crammed into a small cell with 120 other prisoners. They were beaten and terrorized with electric shocks.

Kamel was eventually transferred to the notorious Abu Zaabel prison, which was just as deplorable. Cells were overcrowded and infested with insects. Prisoners had their clothes taken. They were given stale or rotten food and little water. Guards randomly beat prisoners several times a day.

“There is a sadism to it,” Kamel says. “The treatment inside police stations and prisons is inhumane and the abuse is non-stop.”

Three years after a revolution that rose up against Hosni Mubarak’s brutal security state, the repression in Egypt has reached unprecedented levels, say human rights activists, with mass detentions, systematic prisoner abuse and an acquiescent judicial system. At least 16,000 people have been imprisoned over the past eight months.

“This is certainly the worst I’ve ever seen,” says Hossam Bahgat, the founder and former executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

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Baird urges ‘fair and expeditious’ trial for journalist jailed in Egypt

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird visited Egypt for the first time and I was able to ask him about the case of Mohamed Fahmy’s case during a press conference with his Egyptian counterpart. This is a quick piece for the Toronto Star on his comments:
In his first bilateral visit to Egypt, Foreign Minister John Baird said he called for a fair and expeditious trial for imprisoned Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy but stopped short of calling for his release.

Baird made the comments at a news conference Thursday, hours after arriving for a two-day visit.

“If I’m loud and vocal and use a bullhorn, I’m accused of bullhorn diplomacy. If I try to work quietly and directly, it’s not enough,” Baird said, in response to a question from the Star.

A dual Egyptian-Canadian citizen, Fahmy was working for Al-Jazeera English when he has detained on Dec. 29, along with colleagues Peter Greste, an Australian journalist, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer. The men have been accused of belonging to or aiding a terrorist organization in a case that has sparked worldwide condemnation and accusations of a crackdown on press freedom led by Egypt’s military-backed government.

“If someone is before the courts in Canada, I’m not able to order their release,” Baird said. “But I appreciated the assurances that the minister (Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy) gave with respect to a fair, open, transparent, expeditious process.”

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Exclusive: Egyptian Activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah on Prison & Regime’s “War on a Whole Generation”

My in-depth discussion with one of Egypt’s most prominent dissidents, Alaa Abd El-Fattah, speaking in his first extended interview after nearly four months behind bars. Alaa talks about his imprisonment, the wave of repression in Egypt and the state of the revolution:

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Egypt’s Courts Further Repression with Journos on Trial & Mass Death Sentence for Morsi Supporters

I was on Democracy Now! talking about the mass death sentence of 529 defendants as well as the ongoing trial of the Al Jazeera journalists:

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Is being a journalist a crime? Defence grills witnesses at trial of Canadian journalist in Egypt

My piece for the Toronto Star after the third session of the Al Jazeera trial:
The trial of a Canadian journalist and his two colleagues, who have been imprisoned in Egypt for the past 12 weeks on terrorism charges, was adjourned for a third time on Monday with the defence team’s requests for bail again denied by the court.

Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian citizen and the acting bureau chief for Al-Jazeera English, was arrested by Egyptian authorities on Dec. 29, along with colleagues Peter Greste, an Australian correspondent, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer.

The three have been accused of belonging to or aiding a terrorist organization in a case that has sparked worldwide condemnation and accusations of a crackdown on press freedom led by Egypt’s military-backed government.

Monday’s four-hour court session was marked by the defence team grilling government witnesses, including questioning that centred on whether the prosecution was criminalizing basic acts of journalism.

Prosecutors have charged the Al-Jazeera journalists with fabricating news reports and tarnishing Egypt’s reputation abroad.

During Monday’s hearing, defence lawyer Khaled Abu Bakr questioned a member of a state media team that issued a forensic report requested by the prosecution. It concluded the defendants manipulated footage to create “false scenes” that endanger national security.

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Canadian journalist imprisoned in Egypt gets MRI under heavy guard

I got to spend some time with Mohamed Fahmy - a friend and journalist with Al Jazeera who has been jailed since December 29 on terrorism charges - when he was taken to hospital for a scan on his injured shoulder. I filed a piece for the Toronto Star about his condition:
Mohamed Fahmy’s mother couldn’t hold back the tears when she saw the armoured police truck carrying her son enter the hospital compound. “Look at how they treat him,” she sobbed. “Why?”

Half a dozen heavily armed security forces had come to escort Fahmy, a respected journalist who has worked for CNN and the New York Times, from the southern Cairo prison complex where he has been detained for the past 84 days to a public hospital to receive a scan on his shoulder. Fahmy’s family and friends were waiting to greet him as he arrived.

A Canadian-Egyptian citizen and the acting bureau chief for Al-Jazeera English, Fahmy was arrested by Egyptian authorities on Dec. 29, along with colleagues Peter Greste, an Australian correspondent, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer. The three have been accused of belonging to or aiding a terrorist organization in a case that has sparked worldwide condemnation and accusations of a crackdown on press freedom led by Egypt’s military-backed government.

Fahmy emerged from the police truck dressed in prison whites and hugged his mother, younger brother and fiancée. Police officers stood nearby, some sporting flak jackets and assault rifles, their faces hidden behind black balaclavas and helmets.

He had been taken to the Qasr al-Aini hospital for MRI scan of his shoulder, which was broken during his arrest after having been previously fractured. The injury was further aggravated by his being forced to sleep on the floor during his initial detention period, when he was held in solitary confinement in extremely harsh conditions in a maximum-security prison wing for more than a month.

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Canadian journalist, two colleagues deny charges in Cairo court

I attended the opening session of the trial against the imprisoned Al Jazeera English journalists and filed for the Toronto Star:
CAIRO—Imprisoned Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy and two other colleagues working for the news channel Al Jazeera English appeared in court for the first time on Thursday nearly two months after their arrest by Egyptian authorities.

The trial was held at the Institute for Police Trustees inside Tora, a sprawling prison complex in southern Cairo guarded by army tanks. The three journalists stood inside a caged dock in the courtroom wearing white prison outfits and denied the charges against them. They were refused bail and will remain behind bars until the next court session scheduled for March 5.

During a recess in the trial, they managed to communicate with reporters by shouting from the defendants’ cage. Fahmy said they faced “psychologically terrible” conditions in prison and were locked up 23 hours a day with no access to books or newspapers and no way to tell time. “We are strong,” he said.

Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian citizen and the acting bureau chief for Al Jazeera English, was arrested by Egyptian authorities on Dec. 29, along with colleagues Peter Greste, an Australian correspondent and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer.

The three are among 20 defendants accused of belonging to, or aiding and abetting a terrorist organization. Of the 20, only eight were present in the courtroom. The rest are at large and will be tried in absentia.

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A Voice for Democracy Against Egypt’s ‘Fascist Buildup’

I have a profile piece in The Nation on liberal intellectual Amr Hamzawy:
Amr Hamzawy was once the toast of the town among Egypt’s liberal elite.

A prominent political scientist and scholar, he rose to fame following the launch of the 2011 revolution, emerging as the spokesman for the “Committee of Wise Men,” an ad hoc coalition of public figures formed to mediate between protesters and the Mubarak regime.

Hamzawy went on to help found two liberal political parties before winning a seat in Parliament, soundly beating a Muslim Brotherhood candidate in one of the strongest showings in the 2011 elections. His liberal politics often put him at odds with the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups during their time in power. He was a frequent guest on television talk shows and a regular public speaker.

But it was Hamzawy’s outspoken criticism of the army’s overthrow of elected president Mohamed Morsi last July that set him apart from his liberal counterparts.

Now, three years after the revolution began, Hamzawy finds himself politically isolated. He is vilified by his former colleagues, branded a traitor and a “fifth columnist” in the press and barred from travel after prosecutors charged him last month with insulting the judiciary.

“It’s hard to be with no allies and no friends, but it’s always better to understand where people stand and what they think in order to mind future steps and maybe fashion new alliances,” Hamzawy said in a recent interview in his small office at the American University in Cairo, where he is a professor of public policy.

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The War on Journalists

My first column for Mada Masr focusses on the crackdown on journalists in Egypt:

In Egypt, journalism can now be a form of terrorism. At least that’s what prosecutors are alleging in a case targeting Al Jazeera, with 20 defendants referred to trial on charges of joining or aiding a terrorist group and endangering national security.

Among the principal accusations, the prosecutor’s statement accuses the defendants of manipulating video footage “to produce unreal scenes to suggest abroad that the country is undergoing a civil war that portends the downfall of the state.” The statement goes on to say prosecutors assigned a team of “media experts” from the Egyptian Union for Television and Radio to inspect equipment seized from the hotel where Al Jazeera English was operating. The technical reports show that “the footage was altered and video scenes were modified using software and high-caliber editing equipment.”

So they used Final Cut Pro. They edited. They probably even selected the fiercest footage of clashes for their reports. The nature of the charges would be comical if they weren’t so serious.

The journalists accused in the case are being treated as terrorists – that is to say, inhumanely. Two of the detained Al Jazeera English staff, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, are being held in Al-Akrab, the maximum security wing of Tora prison, alongside jihadis and militants. They have been kept in solitary confinement 24-hours a day in insect-infested cells with no beds, books or sunlight for over four weeks. Following the series of bombings in Cairo on January 24, guards even took away their blankets and food their relatives had provided. After a recent visit with him, Fahmy’s family said his spirit appeared to have been broken. Peter Greste is being held in only slightly better conditions.

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Click here to read an Arabic translation