Egypt judge: Al-Jazeera team did "devil’s" work


CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian judge released his reasoning for
harsh sentences issued against three Al-Jazeera journalists, saying
they were brought together "by the devil" to destabilize the country.
main evidence cited in the 57-page document obtained by The Associated
Press on Wednesday was footage produced by the journalists that included
voices critical of the government and showed the turmoil in Egypt after
the overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi last summer, as well
as interviews with families of those killed in the crackdown on Morsi
The reasoning was released a month after judge
Mohammed Shehata convicted and sentenced the three journalists,
Australian correspondent Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian acting Bureau
Chief Mohammed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed, to seven
years over charges linked to aiding the Muslim Brotherhood, which the
government declared a terrorist organization after the military’s ouster
of Morsi, a Brotherhood leader.
The verdicts raised a storm of
international denunciations, including from the United States. Rights
groups called the trial a "sham" that sends a chilling message to the
press. The defendants and Al-Jazeera denied the charges, saying they
were being prosecuted merely for going their jobs.
The three were
convicted for spreading false information, faking reports to show that
the country was on the verge of civil war, and for aiding the
Brotherhood’s goal in portraying Egypt as a failed state. Mohammed
received an additional three years for his possession of a spent bullet.
Three other foreign reporters received a 10-year sentence in absentia.
Twelve other co-defendants were sentenced to between seven and ten
years, some of them in absentia.
Under Egyptian law, now that the
judge has released his reasoning, the defendants can appeal the verdicts
before the Court of Cassation, the highest court of appeal.
his reasoning, the judge stated that the defendants — who worked for
Al-Jazeera’s English-language channel — broadcast their material through
a TV station that works "in the service of a banned terrorist
organization," referring to the Brotherhood — a blanket condemnation of
the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera. But the document provided no clear link
between the Brotherhood and the network, only saying that some members
of the group were also operating out of Qatar.
Shehata rejected
defense lawyers’ arguments that evidence put forward by State Security
investigators was insufficient and based on anonymous sources. Shehata
said he found the evidence compelling, and found no "false allegations
or contradictory statements" in investigators’ testimony.
defendants used the noble journalistic work for reasons other than its
purposes, turning the profession that seeks the truth to one that
falsifies the truth," the statement said. "They were brought together by
the devil to abuse this profession and turn it into acts against the
In several pages of the reasoning, the judge lay out a
detailed account of the evidence cited by investigators. Largely the
evidence appears to describe typical reporting.
It cites news
footage found on the three that included reports from the protest
encampments organized following the overthrow of Morsi and interviews
with leading members of the Brotherhood and scenes of burials of
hundreds killed when the security agencies violently dispersed the
in August last year. The evidence also pointed to footage
showing dead bodies in a mosque at the center of the encampment and
interviews with the mother of one of those killed.
The evidence
also included footage showing protests by Islamist students in support
of Morsi and an interview with their spokesmen vowing to continue their
rejection of what they called a military coup.
The reports that
were part of the evidence also included footage of regular Egyptians
complaining of life becoming too expensive, soccer fans complaining that
the games have suffered since the turmoil and reports on traffic and
sexual harassment in Egypt.
The report included no clear evidence that any of the footage was faked. Instead, it cited editing of the
investigators’ case, accepted by the judge, presents the footage as
part of a conspiracy. Shehata wrote that investigators said that Fahmy
set up a media center from his makeshift studio and office in a Cairo
hotel to disseminate falsified reports. They accused other defendants —
students who were also charged in the case — of forming a separate media
center to also feed footage to Al-Jazeera.
They accused both
groups of receiving orders from the Brotherhood, but none of the
evidence in the reasoning appears to support that.
In one case,
investigators offered a recorded conversation between three people, two
of them allegedly defendants in the case, talking in a phone call about
cameras they were provided by Al-Jazeera to film events on the ground.
With its offices closed in Egypt, Al-Jazeera’s Arabic service in
particular has largely been relying on user-generated videos for its
news reports.
The judge’s reasoning also said Mohammed, the
Al-Jazeera English team’s producer, confessed to investigators that
Al-Jazeera’s central office in Doha told him to present reports that
"paint Egypt in a negative light."
Fahmy’s brother, Adel Fahmy,
said the judge’s reasoning report lays out a story that authorities
"have fabricated without providing any evidence."
"This is further proof that the case is politicized," he said.
the release of the judge’s reasoning, the defendants have one month to
present their appeal, and it is up to the Cassation Court to accept it
or not. The court does not rule on the validity of evidence, however,
only on whether the judge observed the law and proper procedure in his
verdict. The court can order a retrial or uphold the sentences.

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