Egypt prosecutors demand ‘maximum’ jail term for Al-Jazeera correspondents
CAIRO: Egyptian prosecutors on Thursday demanded the “maximum” penalty, ranging from 15 to 25 years in jail, for all 20 defendants in the trial of Al-Jazeera journalists accused of aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood.
Australian journalist Peter Greste and two other detained reporters with Qatar-based Al-Jazeera English are among the accused, in a trial that has triggered international outrage amid growing fears of media restrictions in Egypt.
“We request that the court, without compassion or mercy, apply the maximum penalty for the abominable crimes they have committed … mercy for such (people) will bring the entire society close to darkness,” prosecutor Mohamed Barakat told the court.
The prosecution has charged the 16 Egyptian defendants with joining the Muslim Brotherhood, designated as a “terrorist group.”
The four foreign defendants in the case, including Greste, are charged with “spreading false news,” collaborating and assisting the Egyptian defendants in their crimes by providing media material, editing it and publishing it on the Internet and Al-Jazeera.
Nine of the 20 defendants are in detention, while others are being tried in absentia, including three foreign reporters who are abroad.
The 16 Egyptians could get prison terms of 25 years, while the four foreigners could be jailed for 15 years, according to defense lawyer Ibrahim Abdel Wahab.
The trial is part of a relentless crackdown by the authorities installed by former army chief Abdel Fattah El-Sissi, who won last week’s presidential election, against the Muslim Brotherhood since he ousted president Muhammad Mursi last July.
Greste and Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, the Cairo bureau chief of Al-Jazeera English, were arrested in a hotel room in the capital on December 29 after the channel’s office was raided by police.
The two men were in a caged dock on Thursday along with seven codefendants, including some young students who have collaborated occasionally with the network.
Greste, Fahmy and others have regularly denounced the trial as “unfair” and “political, saying that the evidence against them has been “fabricated.”
The trial comes against the backdrop of strained ties between Cairo and Doha.
Egypt’s interim government accuses Qatar of backing Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, while Doha openly denounces the repression of the ousted president’s supporters.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s outgoing president has decreed sexual harassment a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.