Cairo: Australian journalist Peter Greste and his two al-Jazeera colleagues remain behind bars after an Egyptian judge again denied bail at their trial on charges of conspiring with the banned Muslim Brotherhood to damage Egypt’s reputation.
They are now entering their sixth month of incarceration and every new delay in the trial intensifies their anger and frustration at being held on what they describe as farcical charges for which the prosecution has presented no evidence over 10 court sessions.
Tensions boiled over in the packed courtroom on Sunday after the technical experts responsible for assessing video evidence were unable to give specific examples of Jazeera footage edited with bias towards the Brotherhood – a key plank of the prosecution’s case against the journalists.
Defence lawyer Khaled Abu Bakr asked one of the witnesses if he had seen anything on the videos collected from the journalists’ makeshift offices at the Marriot Hotel in Cairo that defamed the country or threatened national security.
“It’s not for me to say,” the technician replied, and referred the court to his written report.
After getting similar answers from the other two members of the technical committee, Mr Abu Bakr accused the committee of perjury, saying they submitted identical reports to the court and yet gave different answers under questioning.
Judge Mohamed Nagy Shehata appeared unmoved by the exchange.
Mr Greste, Canadian Egyptian bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy and their Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, along with 17 others being tried in absentia, are accused of creating false news that would defame Egypt. All deny the charges.
During a break in the case, Mr Greste spoke from the defendant’s cage, saying the case against them was manufactured and “if we are convicted it will be purely political”.
“There are so many inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case … and so much contrived evidence,” he said.
It was clear the prosecution had not taken any care to ensure the integrity of the evidence, leading to footage attributed to him being taken from the mobile phone of Mr Fahmy, Mr Greste said.
“It is frustrating, it is infuriating, particularly when we know we are victims of a massive injustice. This has to end. The hardest thing about this is never knowing when it will end – it has now stretched into a sixth month,” he said.
A clearly angry Mr Fahmy likened their situation to “political hostages” caught up in a serious falling out between Egypt and al-Jazeera’s backers Qatar.
“If anyone has fabricated anything in this case it is not us it is the prosecutor – this whole trial is a farce … it makes you wonder what happens in other cases,” Mr Fahmy said.
“I am calling on the new president to recognise that we have been falsely imprisoned, that we are innocent and we should be outside this cage as soon as possible.”
The three were arrested on December 29 and are held in a cell measuring three-by-four metres for 23 hours each day. On Fridays they are locked in for the whole day.
Their case has drawn international condemnation from human rights groups, press freedom organisations as well as the governments of Australia, Canada, the US and the European Union.
The case was adjourned until June 5.
A fourth al-Jazeera journalist, Abdullah Elshamy, is thought to be in a serious condition after a months-long hunger strike, however his family says he has disappeared from his cell and they are deeply concerned for his safety.