Four Al Jazeera English journalists were sentenced to 15 more days in detention pending investigations into charges that they belong to the banned Muslim Brotherhood group, the defendants’ lawyers said on Thursday.
Al Jazeera’s English-language bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, correspondent Peter Greste, producer Baher Mohamed and cameraman Mohamed Fawzy were arrested ten days ago. Fahmy is of Egyptian origin but holds a Canadian passport, while Greste is Australian. Mohamed and Fawzy are both Egyptian.
The Qatar-based satellite channel has demanded the immediate release of the journalists.
The Ministry of Interior released a statement identifying the defendants as “elements of the Muslim Brotherhood.” The National Security Apparatus claims to have evidence that the journalists used two hotel rooms to hold meetings with other Brotherhood members, and “broadcast news that harms national security as well as spread false information for Al Jazeera without the approval of relevant authorities,” the ministry claimed.
The prosecutor general’s office accused the journalists of terrorism by virtue of their association with the Brotherhood, and harming Egypt’s image abroad through their reporting.
The defendants face five years in prison on the charges, since the Cabinet passed a decree designating the recently banned Islamist organization as a terrorist group.
Following that resolution, the Cabinet froze the Brotherhood’s assets and shut down hundreds of its offices and associations nationwide.
Two journalists from the US-based McClatchy newspapers company accompanied a relative of Fahmy to his prison cell in the Scorpion Prison in Tora.
Fahmy, who suffered from a shoulder injury prior to his arrest, was being held in solitary confinement and seemed “haggard,” according to the reports.
“Fahmy looked haggard and confused but healthy. He had the early signs of a beard and he hadn’t combed his hair. He rarely looked his visitors in the eye, seemingly confused. ‘I am fine,’ he said,” the journalists recounted in a report published by McClatchy.
“He said prison authorities had refused to give him a sleeping bag and pillow that had been sent to him in prison after lawyers reported that he was sleeping on the floor. ‘They didn’t allow it,’ he said,” the report continued.
Fahmy said he was held in a poor conditions.
“He said he was being held in solitary confinement in Tora, with no light and with ‘insects.’ He asked for food — Egyptian prison food is notoriously bad — and his friend turned over a duffle bag and four other bags filled with food, toiletries, clothing, water, towels, notebooks, a pen and cigarettes,” the report said.
“Fahmy only glanced at the bags. ‘I’m being held the worst of everyone,’ he said. ‘Why are they putting me in a highly secured prison?’” Fahmy asked the McClatchy reporters.
Fahmy’s brother had told the French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) that prosecutors asked him to prove that he does not belong to the Brotherhood by collecting testimonies from renowned journalists he had previously worked with.
Fahmy’s Twitter account, which is now run by his family, urged his followers and friends to offer their statements denying his affiliation with the group.