Shouting out from a metal cage, an Egyptian-Canadian journalist imprisoned in Cairo told a court Monday that he wasn’t a member of an outlawed Islamist group the local government considers a terror organization.
“I am a journalist. My only weapon is a camera and computer,” Mohamed Fahmy yelled as the third session of his trial got underway.
Fahmy’s case was put over until March 31 after the cross-examination of witnesses from the prosecution, which claims the journalist and his colleagues produced footage which threatened national security.
Fahmy’s family — which has called the charges “absurd” — was disappointed at the turn of events, just a day after receiving a letter from Egypt’s interim president which promised a fair and speedy trial for the 40-year-old.
“I’m very frustrated that today there was nothing achieved,” Fahmy’s brother Adel told The Canadian Press from Cairo. “We’re putting more hope on the president’s letter.”
One positive development emerging from Monday’s session was the fact that the trial resumes again in just a week without a long gap between hearings, said Fahmy’s brother.
Fahmy has been behind bars ever since he and two colleagues — Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed — were arrested on Dec. 29 while working for satellite news broadcaster Al-Jazeera English.
They are being tried as part of a group of 20 individuals who authorities say worked for the Al Jazeera network and allegedly threatened national security. At least 12 are being tried in abstentia.
Authorities accuse Al-Jazeera of being a platform for ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi’s supporters and his Muslim Brotherhood group. The network denies that and says the journalists were just doing their jobs.
Fahmy and his colleagues have pleaded not guilty.
Monday’s session saw defence lawyers try to discredit two witnesses, a police officer and a technical expert, that the prosecution was relying upon to make its case.
Security officials have accused the journalists of having unlicensed equipment and setting up a media centre for the Muslim Brotherhood. They’re accused of editing footage to exaggerate unrest in Egypt, harming the country’s reputation.
At one point, Fahmy’s lawyer, Khaled Abou Bakr, asked a prosecution witness: “Is conveying the opinion of any person who may oppose the state, the current regime, considered a crime?”
The witness responded: “I don’t get the question.”
The footage itself that the prosecution claims undermines national security has not yet been viewed. Fahmy’s lawyer said it includes interviews with politicians, mostly secular ones, and a soccer game.
Fahmy’s brother said his family has been waiting weeks for the actual footage to be aired in court.
Instead, he said Monday’s session focused on which journalist owned certain pieces of equipment and where the devices were found upon their arrest.
“It was all about the equipment and not about the essential part, the so-called evidence, the material on the equipment,” he said. “It was an inconclusive session.”
The judge presiding over the case assured the court, however, that the trial’s next session would display and deal with the content of the journalist’s equipment, Fahmy’s brother said.
The trial — which is thought to be the first time Egypt has prosecuted journalists on terrorism-related charges — has drawn international outrage for fellow members of the media and human rights activists.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has said senior Canadian officials have raised Fahmy’s case with Egyptian authorities and have requested a fair, expeditious trial, although officials have indicated Fahmy’s dual citizenship has placed limits on how much they can do.
Fahmy’s family moved to Canada in 1991. He lived in Montreal and Vancouver for years before eventually moving abroad for work, which included covering stories for the New York Times and CNN.
— with files from the Associated Press.