Private Egyptian TV airs video of arrest of Al-Jazeera journalists at Cairo hotel
CAIRO, Egypt – A private Egyptian TV channel has aired video of the arrest in late December of two Al-Jazeera journalists at a Nile-side Cairo hotel, with the final shot showing the men being led into a van outside the hotel.
The release of the tape indicates Egypt’s military-backed government is not likely to ease up on its campaign against the Qatari-based network. Authorities say Al-Jazeera is promoting violence and divisions and is allegedly working for Egypt’s largest Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government has designated as a terrorist organization. Al-Jazeera denies the charges.
The nearly 22-minute clip, apparently made with a mobile phone, was broadcast late Sunday on Al-Tahrir television.
The footage shows Al-Jazeera’s acting Cairo bureau chief, Mohammed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian, and Australia’s award-winning correspondent Peter Greste being interrogated at the hotel suite just before the arrest. It doesn’t show any of the security men who raided the hotel suite on Dec. 29, but two voices, presumably of security officers, are heard asking questions. The men are then led into a van outside the hotel.
A third Al-Jazeera employee known to have been arrested with them does not appear in the video.
The three are among 20 Al-Jazeera journalists facing trial on charges of joining or aiding a terrorist group. Eight of the 20 are in custody. No date has been set for the trial.
Al-Jazeera has demanded the release of its reporters, whose arrest sparked an outcry from rights groups and journalist advocacy organizations. The United States also voiced its concern over what it called the targeting of journalists.
On Sunday, an Egyptian court freed an Al-Jazeera cameraman after six months in detention. Mohamed Badr, a cameraman for Al-Jazeera’s Egyptian channel, was arrested following clashes in July.
He was acquitted along with 61 others.
If Al-Jazeera’s staffers go on trial, it would mark the first time Egypt prosecutes journalists on terrorism-related charges, suggesting that authorities are expanding the heavy-handed crackdown on the Brotherhood since the military’s ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi on July 3.
The full list of charges and the names of defendants have not been made public. The office of the prosecutors has said 16 Egyptians in the case are accused of joining a terrorist group, while an Australian, a Dutch citizen and two Britons are accused of helping to promote false news benefiting a terrorist group.
If found guilty, they could face sentences ranging from three years for spreading false news to 15 for belonging to a terrorist group.
The charges are based on the government’s recent designation of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Though authorities have long depicted Al-Jazeera as biased toward Morsi and the Brotherhood, police have largely targeted the network’s Arabic service and its Egyptian affiliate, which remained one of the few TV stations to provide a platform for the Brotherhood after the crackdown following the coup.
The video on Al-Tahrir TV shows Fahmy, the bureau chief, being asked by two voices how he gets paid, whom the channel interviews and the number and names of his crew. He is repeatedly asked why they are working out of a hotel, to which he replies that he is still searching for an office.
Fahmy, who has his right arm in a sling, appears to be in pain, frequently pressing his right arm with his left hand.
A worried-looking Greste is seen being asked by one of the security officers whether he can read Arabic, after which the Australian asks for someone to interpret. He is later seen sitting next to Fahmy on a sofa while the bureau chief is being questioned.
Replying to a question, Fahmy says neither he nor Greste have accreditation to work in Egypt but that they have applied for press cards.
© 2014 The Canadian Press