An Egyptian-Canadian journalist on trial in Cairo on terrorism charges told a judge Monday that objective reporting is not to blame for the wars and turmoil in countries like Iraq and Egypt, political leaders are.
Mohamed Fahmy’s comments came as the trial’s judge said he’d deliver a verdict next week, following a five-month-long trial that has outraged journalists and human rights groups, who say the imprisoned reporters were only doing their job.
Fahmy and two colleagues — Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed — were working for Qatar-based satellite news broadcaster Al-Jazeera English when they were arrested in a December raid on their hotel in Cairo.
They’ve since been accused of providing a platform for the Muslim Brotherhood group of ousted president Mohammed Morsi, which Egypt’s government has branded a terrorist organization. They’ve also been accused of airing falsified footage with the intent of damaging Egypt’s national security.
Fahmy’s brother said prosecution lawyers in the case alleged Fahmy and his colleagues worked for a network that “ruined” countries in the Arab world like Iraq and now Egypt.
To combat that claim, Fahmy was allowed to go before the judge on Monday, at which point he handed him a book about George W. Bush, saying it was the former U.S. president who “ruined” Iraq.
“That was a gesture to catch the attention of the judge and also to say that it’s ridiculous to say a TV network ruined a whole country, let alone a whole region,” Adel Fahmy, the Canadian journalist’s brother, told The Canadian Press.
“He also said, as his lawyer has said before, that you cannot put a channel or network on trial through individuals.”
Mohamed Fahmy also told the judge that after nearly six months in prison he’s lost almost all use of his right arm, which was injured before he was arrested and never healed properly due to a lack of proper care behind bars, his brother said.
Fahmy and his colleagues are being tried along with 17 others, some of them students who have been lumped together in the same case.
Monday’s court proceedings saw final defence arguments submitted by the students in the case before the trial was adjourned to next Monday, said Fahmy’s brother.
“If they give such a short period between the conclusion of the defence and the verdict, it’s usually a good sign,” he said, adding that prosecution lawyers did not request additional time to respond to defence arguments.
“Today the prosecution seemed defeated, it didn’t even comment today…it seems like we have overwhelmed them with our strong, detailed defence.”
Egyptian prosecutors have demanded the maximum penalty of 15-25 years in jail for all those on trial, but Fahmy’s family, who moved to Canada in 1991, remained optimistic that the journalist and his colleagues would be released after next week’s verdict.
“Today lifted our spirits,” said Fahmy’s brother. “The sense we get is that the judge is decent and fair. The fact that he gave Mohamed the chance to speak on more than one occasion is also a positive sign.”
A spokesman for Al-Jazeera said Monday’s proceedings highlighted the “weaknesses of the prosecution” in the case.
“Al Jazeera hopes the judge will take into consideration the facts presented to him and acquit Peter, Baher and Mohammed of any wrong doing,” said Osama Saeed. “On June 23, the entire world will be watching Egypt to see whether they uphold the values of press freedom.”
The court proceedings wrapped just hours before Egypt’s prosecutor general ordered the release of another imprisoned Al-Jazeera journalist, who had been on hunger strike for more than 100 days to protest his prolonged detention without trial.
A statement from the prosecutor’s office said Abdullah Elshamy, who was arrested last August, and 12 others would be set free, citing “health conditions.”