Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy expressed frustration today after prosecution lawyers in a Cairo court attempted to tie the Al Jazeera bureau chief and his colleagues to the content they filmed and returned to questioning the technical committee tasked with reviewing evidence, as the drawn-out retrial was postponed for three weeks.
"The prosecutor speaking asked questions that don't pertain to [the committee]," said Mr. Fahmy outside the courtroom inside Cairo's Tora prison complex. "He was asking questions about the content, which is not acceptable because the technical committee is only there to decide on the technical aspects of the videos, not whether it's a coup or a revolution or who killed who."
"This is not their job here and our lawyers made that very clear," he said under the beating sun outside the prison where he spent more than a year behind bars.
As the lengthy retrial enters its final stage, Mr. Fahmy remained confident and determined to clear his name, announcing plans for a press conference that would reveal exclusive details and include the appearance of a celebrity lawyer. But in a case that has highlighted a fierce media crackdown in Egypt and tarnished the country's image abroad, the move by the prosecution to rehash evidence was a reminder that the journalists' fates ultimately remain in the hands of a controversial judge.
Last week, the journalist -- who faces charges that include fabricating news and conspiring with a terrorist organization -- had celebrated a welcome turn in the retrial when the panel of experts tasked with reviewing evidence told the court that footage had not been edited or altered. But today in court, prosecution lawyers once again asked to discuss the 280-page report, with defense lawyers objecting in anger when the judge called the committee to speak.
The committee reiterated this week that footage had not been edited, but when questioned by prosecution lawyers, the head of the technical committee would not say whether the footage harmed national security, one of the charges Mr. Fahmy and his colleagues face.
"The prosecutor is stressing that we are responsible for what the interviewees are saying, and this is absolutely wrong," said Baher Mohamed, Mr. Fahmy's Egyptian colleague who received the harshest sentence of the three journalists in the original trial. "If someone is saying something and we are covering it or recording it, we have nothing to do with it. This is our job, to speak to the people, this is the only point."
A lawyer with the prosecution asked the committee whether or not the journalists had portrayed the events that transpired in Egypt following June 30, 2013, as a revolution or as a military coup. After the country's then-military leader and now-president Abdel Fattah al-Sissi led the overthrow of the country's first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi, a descripton of the event has been a bone of contention between supporters of the new government, who say the country's army was answering the will of the people, and their opponents, who say it was a coup.
"I don't know where these questions are coming from, why they are even relevant, and that is what my lawyer was trying to tell the prosecutor, that this technical committee is not here to decide on the content itself," said Mr. Fahmy. "We've seen the judge delay again for three weeks for reasons that I don't understand either."
The trial was adjourned to June 1, when closing arguments are expected to begin, which will set the stage for the long-awaited verdict before the end of June - a verdict Mr. Fahmy hopes will once and for all end the year and a half saga and allow him to finally return to Canada.
After a highly-publicized trial that was widely denounced as a farce, Mr. Fahmy, Australian journalist Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed were convicted on charges of conspiring with a terrorist organization to broadcast false news. The three were sentenced to seven to ten years in jail in June of last year, but in January, a court threw out the verdict and ordered a retrial. Mr. Fahmy and Mr. Mohamed were released on bail.
Despite the prosecutor's move today, Mr. Fahmy says he still has confidence the retrial is turning in his favour and that the judge is moving away from convicting him on terrorism charges and focusing on technical violations pertaining to broadcast licensing, issues he says are the responsibility of his employer Al Jazeera. Mr. Fahmy has been sharply critical of the Qatari-owned network, for what he has called 'grave negligence' on their part towards its employees.
Al Jazeera management has dismissed Mr. Fahmy's criticism, saying the Canadian journalist has been under stress as a result of his ordeal.