An Egyptian-Canadian TV journalist marked World Press Freedom Day behind bars in Cairo on Saturday after Mohamed Fahmy and his colleagues were once again denied bail.
Fahmy, who works for the satellite news broadcaster Al-Jazeera English, has been detained since last Dec. 29 along with two colleagues on charges of conspiring with the banned Muslim Brotherhood to threaten Egypt’s national security.
Fahmy was given a rare opportunity to address Judge Mohamed Nagi Shehata at Saturday’s hearing and used the opportunity to argue that journalists have to speak to all sides to properly do their jobs.
In his brief appeal, Fahmy said he had good contacts in the Egyptian army, the police and the intelligence services.
Judge Shehata replied by wishing Fahmy and his colleagues a “happy” World Press Freedom Day before ordering them back to jail.
He denied them bail and set their next hearing for May 15.
Fahmy’s brother, Adel Fahmy, was on hand for the proceedings and said he was pleased the judge gave Mohamed the opportunity to speak.
“This was a good thing to happen, but I don’t know if it’s anything more than a gesture. I’m not sure,” he said in a phone interview from Cairo.
“The real business will take place when the defence starts next session. That’s when it really gets going and we’ll have a clear indication of how it may conclude.”
Adel Fahmy said his brother remains in good spirits despite his lengthy stay behind bars. He celebrated his 40th birthday with relatives in a prison visitor room last Sunday.
Fahmy was handed an award on Friday by the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom in recognition of his work as “a passionate journalist and advocate of press freedom.”
Fahmy, along with Australian correspondent Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, all face charges of being part of a terrorist group and airing falsified footage intended to damage Egyptian national security.
Qatar-based Al-Jazeera and the journalists have denied the allegations.
Their arrest comes as part of a greater crackdown on the press and the Muslim Brotherhood, from which toppled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi hails.
The journalists face trial on the charges with 17 others. Al-Jazeera Arabic service journalist Abdullah Elshamy has been held without charges since August after being arrested separately.
Fahmy told reporters covering the hearing that he mentioned that because of prosecutors previously showing a picture of Fahmy standing by Morsi. He said there were pictures of him with other veteran politicians that the court did not show.
Fahmy also asked the judge to release them before Egypt’s upcoming May presidential election. When the judge asked Fahmy if he wanted to cover the vote, Fahmy simply said he wanted to get out of prison.
In a shouted exchange between journalists covering the hearing and the defendants, Fahmy said that he had not seen his legal team in two weeks and had not had a chance to review the evidence against him with his lawyer.
Greste added that there was “no evidence” against the three and that they were “very frustrated with the system.”
In previous hearings, prosecutors offered video clips found with the journalists about an animal hospital with donkeys and horses, and another about Christian life in Egypt as evidence of their crimes. Defence lawyers and even the judge dismissed the footage as irrelevant.
A worldwide campaign has protested the detention of journalists in Egypt.
In a letter sent to Egyptian President Adly Mansour in January, the Committee to Protect Journalists called on the government to release all detained journalists. The committee said at the time at least five journalists had been killed, 45 assaulted, 44 detained and 11 news outlets raided in Egypt since Morsi’s overthrow.
As the Al-Jazeera journalists left the hearing, they chanted “Happy World Press Freedom Day.” Their colleagues covering the hearing shouted back words of encouragement.
– with files from Associated Press