Hunger-striking Al-Jazeera reporter attends court

AP News
Posted: May 15, 2014 3:03 PM
Hunger-striking Al-Jazeera reporter attends court

CAIRO (AP) — Looking thin and weak, an Al-Jazeera journalist held without charges in Egypt vowed Thursday to continue his more than 100-day hunger strike despite being moved to solitary confinement.

Arabic service journalist Abdullah Elshamy appeared in court after lawyers representing three Al-Jazeera English reporters abruptly quit their separate trial, accusing the Doha-based network of using the arrest of their staff to tarnish Egypt's image.

Police arrested Elshamy, 26, after security forces broke up a sit-in of supporters of toppled President Mohammed Morsi at an area around Cairo's Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque Aug. 14, an operation that killed hundreds.

Two days after his arrest, prosecutors accused Elshamy of belonging to a banned group, attacking government officials and other acts of violence and sabotage. However, authorities have never charged him with a crime.

Elshamy began a hunger strike to protest his detention and in his court appearance Thursday, Elshamy said authorities tried to force feed him tuna after putting him in solitary confinement on Monday.

"They want me to stop the strike," Elshamy said. He added that a video smuggled out of prison and posted online yesterday in which he describes his arrest and detention in English may also have been part of the reason for the move. Elshamy said he will continue his hunger strike.

His family said Elshamy suffers from severe anemia and problems with his kidneys. They've asked he be moved out of prison to a hospital. Amnesty International also says authorities have denied him access to a doctor despite repeated requests.

In a statement Thursday, Amnesty urged authorities to release the journalist, describing him as a "prisoner of conscience, detained solely for his journalistic work."

Egypt's military-backed interim government has long accused Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, its Arabic service in particular, as acting as a platform for the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of toppled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. The journalists and the network deny the charges.

Amnesty said Elshamy had been beaten by security forces when they transferred him between prisons and police stations. His final destination was Tora prison, where authorities hold many Brotherhood members and supporters.

Interior Ministry spokesman Hani Abdel-Latif told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Elshamy was in the Torah prison complex, but wouldn't specify which of its five wings.

Police arrested the Al-Jazeera English journalists Dec. 29 after police raided a Cairo hotel room they used as an office. Canadian-Egyptian acting bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy, Australian correspondent Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed face charges of belonging to and aiding a terrorist group, namely the Brotherhood. They also face charges of fabricating footage to undermine Egypt's national security.

At their earlier hearing Thursday, lawyer Farag Fathi stood in front of Judge Mohammed Nagi Shehata to denounce the network.

"The Al-Jazeera channel is offending Egypt," Fathi said. He also claimed the network attributed comments to him on air that he didn't say.

The three lawyers represent both Greste and Mohammed. Their decision to quit raised fears among the journalists it would harm their chances in court. They said the lawyers didn't warn them ahead of the hearing of their decision.

"What the lawyer did makes us look bad!" Fahmy shouted to journalists from behind bars. "We are very angry with the way this is unfolding!"

Prosecutors also said lawyers for the journalists must pay 1.2 million Egyptian pounds — some $170,000 — for copies of the evidence against them, an unusually high amount of money.

In a statement Thursday, Al-Jazeera said it continued to work "with a first-class legal team to end this injustice."

"There have been many farcical scenes during the previous seven court hearings, and today was another example," the statement said. "It is an affront to justice for the prosecution to attempt charging $170,000 for the defense to see the video evidence against them."

In addition to the three journalists, 14 other people are charged in the case. All but nine are being tried in absentia, though one newly arrested defendant attended the trial for the first time Thursday. Other defendants include students who opposed Morsi's ouster, including a son of a high-ranking leader Mohammed el-Beltagy. The journalists say they have no relationship with the students.

Their trial will resume May 22.


Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report.