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Off-topic evidence brought in Australian journalist Peter Greste's case in Cairo

On trial: Peter Greste inside the defendants' cage in Cairo courtroom.

On trial: Peter Greste inside the defendants' cage in Cairo courtroom. Photo: AP

Cairo: Holiday snaps of Australian Peter Greste’s parents and his award-winning BBC documentary on Somalia were just two of the many pieces of irrelevant material presented as evidence to an Egyptian court, as the trial of three Al-Jazeera journalists descended further into farce during its fifth day.

Other purported evidence against the journalists, who are charged with conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to broadcast news that falsely portrayed Egypt as being in a state of “civil war”, included footage of a press conference in Kenya and five Sky News Arabia stories filmed in Cairo.

Not a single video or photograph shown to the court was produced by Al-Jazeera English in Egypt, leaving Judge Mohamed Nagy Shehata bemused and infuriating Mr Greste and his colleagues, Canadian Egyptian bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy and producer Baher Mohamed.

“Today the case completely fell apart,” Mr Greste said from the defendant’s cage in the court in Cairo’s Tora Prison complex during a break in proceedings.

Mr Fahmy agreed, describing Egypt as a “police state” and the case a farce. “You have got 20 defendants who do not know each other and unrelated video being played as evidence.”

He appealed to the judge to release them on bail, saying: “We have been in jail for four months and every time we come to view the video (evidence) someone else makes a mistake and we pay for it.”

As more of the videos were played – a long press conference in Nairobi following the Westgate Mall terror attack and Mr Greste’s Land of the Bandits documentary in Somalia and Kenya – lawyers for the journalists protested to the judge over their relevance. Family photographs of Mr Greste's parents Lois and Juris on holiday in Germany and Latvia pushed the court to breaking point. 

One of the senior defence lawyers rose to his feet and all but yelled to the bench: “If this continues it will kill the image of Egypt – we are not prosecuting terrorists, they are educated people, they are journalists and we are asking for mercy and justice.”

Mr Fahmy’s counsel followed with: “The world is watching, the international media are here. The prosecutor is wasting our time.”

Mr Greste’s lawyer chimed in: “The material you have captured has nothing to do with the allegations. Based on all investigations and everything you’ve taken from my client … you do not have any evidence to prove my client guilty.”

The shambolic nature of the prosecution’s case against the journalists – it was the third day they had attempted to screen the video “evidence” and it followed an earlier court session in which key prosecution witnesses were unable to remember crucial aspects of their evidence – was viewed with obvious dismay by the defendants and their families.

During the March 5 hearing, another witness admitted that at the time of their arrest, he believed the journalists were working for Al-Jazeera’s Egyptian network Mubasher, which is banned, and not Al-Jazeera English, which is permitted to operate in Egypt.

“We’ve had enough,” Mr Greste told journalists. “I am unbelievably frustrated – every single day we wonder why we are behind bars.

“It is obvious the prosecution has not even looked at the videos … the only thing we have had from the prosecution is conjecture.”

The Qatari-backed news network is perceived in Egypt as being overly sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was formally designated a terrorist organisation on December 25, just four days before the journalists were arrested.

Mr Greste, Mr Fahmy and Mr Mohamed have been held in prison without bail since December 29. Along with the other charges, Mr Fahmy and Mr Mohamed are further accused of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

All deny the charges, as do the other 17 people named in the list released by authorities in February, many of whom do not work for Al-Jazeera.

Egypt’s decision to target Al-Jazeera – condemned by media rights organisations as an blatant attack on press freedom – is part of a wider crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and those perceived to be its supporters.

Human rights groups say at least 16,000 people have been arrested and detained since July 3, when the military forced the Brotherhood backed president Mohamed Mursi from power following mass public protests.

Since then Egyptian security forces have broadened their crackdown to include academics, students, atheists, unionists and journalists.

The trial was adjourned until April 22 and the journalists were again denied bail.

 

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