However, hopes for a long-awaited verdict exonerating the journalists were dashed with another adjournment until this week.
Baher Mohamed, the producer who was detained along with his colleagues Egyptian Canadian bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy and Australian journalist Peter Greste, in late December 2013, was again pleading his case before judge Hassan Farid.
Mohamed was released without bail in February of this year. Fahmy was released with bail, and Greste was deported back to Australia with an executive order after the three men had spent over 400 days in prison on charges of aiding a terrorist organisation. Other foreign journalists have also been convicted as part of the case. Egyptian media infamously dubbed the case The Marriott Cell, alluding to where the police raided the journalists’ operational headquarters.
The case, which triggered an international outcry from human rights organisations and governments including the US, is still ongoing in Egypt’s bureaucratic judicial system.
The three journalists were originally sentenced to between seven and 10 years for allegedly spreading false news and belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was declared a terrorist organisation a few days before their arrest. Some of the evidence used in court included a popular song by Australian artists Gotye and Kimbra found on Greste’s laptop when it was seized by police officers in their raid.
A verdict was expected before Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, but the case has been delayed yet again.
Fahmy told Business Insider before the court session, “The end is so near. I am expecting fireworks.”
Mohamed Wahba, the lawyer representing Greste and Mohamed, was cagey as he was preparing legal notes for his closing argument before the defendants entered.
He appeared confidently cautious though taking a selfie with other lawyers who were present for another high-profile case involving militants from Sinai accused of bombing military facilities and assassinating 54 police officers.
In session, Wahba excitedly argued that his client was innocent on charges that he was part of the Muslim Brotherhood. He exclaimed that Mohamed’s father might be religiously devout but that is not his client’s issue and that he must be extricated from such a charge.
He then moved on to address a spent bullet casing that was found in Mohamed’s residence when security forces detained him outside of Cairo while his colleagues were taken from the Marriott hotel. The casing made it to the case as evidence of Mohamed’s militancy and he received three extra years in his sentencing. Mohamed had kept it as a souvenir from his time reporting in Libya.
Wahba told Business Insider, “On this charge, he will be exonerated.” He confidently added, “I don’t have any fears about the eventual outcome because there was no crime committed. Looking at the facts objectively, there is not any credible evidence to prove that there was a crime.”
Mohamed was buoyed by his lawyer’s arguments and looking forward to clearing his name.
“He tackled all of the important legal points today from the issue of the bullet to licensing. It’s something positive,” Mohamed told Business Insider after his session.
The court adjourned till June 25 to hear the closing arguments of the lawyer of Khaled Abdel Rahman, one of the 20 defendants associated with case. He is not a journalist and was not part of the Al Jazeera network.
Journalists and activists have been protesting in Egypt for greater press freedoms. Egypt ranked 158 out of 180 countries on the 2015 World Press Freedom Index making it one of the worst offenders with 12 journalists currently serving prison sentences.
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