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Egyptian prosecutor calls for maximum jail term in AlJazeera case, trial termed a "farce"

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) - the union and professional association for Australia's journalists – has condemned the call by Egyptian prosecutors for the maximum jail sentence to be delivered against Al Jazeera journalists currently on trial in Cairo. MEAA has called the trial process a farce and a vicious attack on press freedom.

[On June 5, 2014], the court sitting inside Tora Prison adjourned the case until June 16 and again refused the prisoners bail.

Among the journalists are three working for Al Jazeera English: Australian Peter Greste and his colleagues, Cairo bureau chief Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and producer Baher Mohamed. The three face up to 15 years' jail on charges of defaming Egypt and having ties to the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood.

MEAA federal secretary Christopher Warren said: "Over the course of five months and 11 hearings, not a shred of evidence has been produced by the prosecution that suggests anything other than the journalists have been producing ethical, balanced and responsible reporting of the chaotic events in Egypt in the latter part of 2013. Instead, we have seen the prosecution humiliate itself with comical effect producing as 'evidence': a pop song by Gotye; holiday snapshots of Peter Greste's parents; video of news stories by other networks; unintelligible phone conversations by unidentified people; dubious photos that appear to have been tampered with by parties unknown; and completely unrelated news reports of events in other countries,” he said.

Defence lawyer Khaled Abu Bakr said "Nobody could pinpoint a single video that was a threat to national security".

Greste told the court: "The prosecutors did not present a single piece of evidence," he said. "It was falsified, there weren't any facts that we got wrong. There was no story that we manipulated... [The prosecutor] spoke very much in generalisations and so we expect the judge to acknowledge the lack of any specific evidence and acquit us on that basis."

Throughout the proceedings, the journalists have been denied bail, have often struggled with little or no translations of the evidence, have been told they would have to pay to see the evidence against them, have at times been placed in solitary confinement, and the entire process has been dragged out over several months.

Warren said: "If the court finds them guilty for doing their jobs as journalists – for reporting the facts, for reporting all sides of a story – then that will mean press freedom ceases to exist in Egypt and every journalist worth the name is under threat, subject to arrest and detention for doing their duty.

"MEAA calls on President-elect Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to take steps to stop this farce from going any further. On June 16 the court should drop all the charges against the defendants and immediately release them. The Egyptian authorities should give guarantees that journalists will be free to report on events without any harassment, intimidation or threats. Our colleague Peter Greste should be allowed to return home. If these things do not happen, then press freedom in Egypt will descend into a crisis at a time when journalism has a crucial role to play in Egypt's future."

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