When three journalists for Al Jazeera’s English service were brought into an Egyptian court Wednesday, they were held in cages, a shocking image that prompted reactions including “disturbing,” “heartbreaking” and “rocked.”
Al Jazeera tweeted this photo showing their staffers in court, not only held in cages, but also separated from the legal teams by rows of security personnel:
They are facing charges of allegedly being members of and aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and endangering national security. Getty Images published more photos of the scene:
Australian journalist Peter Greste of Al-Jazeera looks on standing inside the defendants cage during his trial for allegedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood at Cairo's Tora prison on March 5, 2014. The high-profile case that sparked a global outcry over muzzling of the press is seen as a test of the military-installed government's tolerance of independent media, with activists fearing a return to autocracy three years after the Arab Spring uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak. (Photo: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)
These are not the first defendants to be held in cages in Egyptian trials, as was ousted Muslim Brotherhood-linked President Mohammed Morsi and his predecessor Hosni Mubarak. Still, the image of journalists being held in cages has evoked wide sympathy from other reporters as reflected in these comments posted on Twitter:
The parents of one of the defendants, Australian reporter Peter Greste, said from their hometown of Brisbane on Thursday that the image of their son in white prison garb inside a cage left them “shocked” and “rocked.”
“It certainly shocked me,” Juris Greste said according to the Associated Press. “It absolutely rocked me to see him in the cage.”
Agence France-Press reported that before the hearing began, defendant Baher Mohamed – an Al Jazeera producer – shouted, “Journalists are not terrorists.”
Al Jazeera has rejected the charges against its staff and is calling for the immediate release of reporter Greste, bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, and producer Baher Mohamed.
"Mohamed, Peter, and Baher are world-class journalists, and were simply doing the job – of journalism – covering and challenging all sides of the story in Egypt," said Al Anstey, managing director of Al Jazeera English. "To continue to keep them behind bars after such a long time in detention is simply outrageous, so we continue to call for their immediate release."
The three have been in detention since Dec. 29.
Al Jazeera has been accused by Egyptian authorities of favoring in its coverage the Muslim Brotherhood, which has now been declared a terrorist group in Egypt. Al Jazeera is currently not allowed to report from Egypt, the network reported.
Canada’s Globe and Mail in an editorial Wednesday called the terrorism charges “trumped-up.”
Referring to bureau chief Fahmy, a dual Canadian-Egyptian citizen, the Globe wrote, “The allegations against him are preposterous, and appear to be a function of the deep paranoia of Egypt’s military commanders, who have largely outlawed dissent since seizing power in a coup last year.”
“Mr. Fahmy and his colleagues are among the regime’s many victims. The military’s enemies list has broadened beyond the usual targets in the Muslim Brotherhood to include anyone who dares question the authority of the ruling generals. Journalism has become a crime,” the Canadian newspaper added.