Cairo : The main lawyers representing Australian journalist Peter Greste and another Al-Jazeera reporter on trial in Cairo quit in court on Thursday, accusing the Qatari broadcaster of working against Egypt. Greste, watching the proceedings from the caged dock, appeared taken aback when his lawyers announced to the judge that they were quitting the case, which has sparked international concern for the detained reporters. The Australian is on trial with four other journalists for the Qatar-based broadcaster on charges of aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood and defaming Egypt. Only three of the journalists are in prison, along with six other defendants in the case. The rest of the 20 defendants are abroad or in hiding. In Thursday’s session, lead defence lawyer Farag Fathy said he and two colleagues also representing producer Baher Mohamed would no longer represent the reporters.
‘Al-Jazeera is using my clients. I have emails from the channel telling me they don’t care about the defendants and care about insulting Egypt,’ Fathy told the court. He accused the Qatari channel in their coverage of the trial of ‘fabricating quotes’ and attributing them to him. An Al-Jazeera spokesman said: ‘The lawyer who made an outburst in court today made his position on the team untenable.’
‘We now have the best legal representation working in harmony, focused on getting our journalists out of jail’, he added. Greste earlier told reporters from the dock: ‘I am baffled. This is the first time we have heard of this problem.’ The military-installed authorities have been incensed by Al-Jazeera’s coverage of their crackdown on supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi after his overthrow by the army in July. At least 1,400 people, mostly Islamists, have been killed in street clashes since, and more than 15,000 have been jailed.
A third journalist, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, the Cairo bureau chief of Al-Jazeera English, is also in custody. His lawyer, Ibrahim Abdel Wahab, accused prosecutors of trying to ‘hinder’ his work. ‘They asked us to pay 1.2 million pounds (around 123,000 euros, $168,704) to get copies of the evidence,’ he told AFP.
One defendant, Khaled Abdel Rahman, was in the dock on Thursday after being arrested recently. ‘I have never collaborated with Al-Jazeera and I never sent videos to the channel. I am not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and I don’t know why I am in this dock,’ he told AFP. In previous hearings, prosecutors had presented video footage and an array of photographs with no apparent link to the case. The trial was adjourned until May 22.
Another Al-Jazeera journalist who works for the Arabic channel, Abdullah Elshamy, has been detained for nine months and has yet to face trial. He has been on hunger strike since January in protest at his detention. His brother Mosaab told AFP that Abdullah was placed ‘in solitary confinement in the maximum security (wing) of Torah prison’ in Cairo. Rights group Amnesty international called on Thursday for Elshamy’s immediate and unconditional release.
‘By placing a hunger-striker in solitary confinement, instead of transferring him to a hospital or allowing him to see a doctor, the Egyptian authorities are deliberately putting his life and health at risk,’ an Amnesty statement said.