The Cairo Criminal Court resumed Sunday the trial of detained photojournalist Ahmed Gamal Ziada and 76 Al-Azhar students accused of engaging in violent protests and setting fire to the Faculty of Commerce in December 2013. The next session will be on 21 March.
The case is being looked into by a judicial division from the criminal court in charge of terrorist affairs. In the previous session, the judge decided to hear the defence’s arguments for the first 15 detainees.
Ziada is suspect no.16 in the case. His lawyer, Mokhtar Mounir, believes that Ziada is a victim of authorities’ fabricated charges of breaking the Protest Law, assaulting security officers and disturbing public order, in addition to the charges related to burning down the faculty building of Al-Azhar University.
“He is a journalist and he was doing his job,” Mokhtar repeatedly told Daily News Egypt. Ziada’s brother, Mohamed, also attended the court session Sunday, but families and relatives of the defendants are denied entry in trials taking place at the Tora Police Institute.
Mohamed told Daily News Egypt outside court that prison visits have become harder for Ziada. “Prison authorities mistreat us, because they know that my brother sends messages to the press from inside jail. In our last visit, they would not allow us to take a bag we brought for him because there was a newspaper in it,” Mohamed said.
Ziada’s name was among ten journalists mentioned by the International Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a recent letter addressing the presidency that demanded immediate correction of the situation of journalists in Egypt.
As for the remaining defendants, lawyers argued in court that there was no record at the Nasr City police station of reports or rescue calls from the university on that day, which makes it impossible to prove that the defendants committed anything.
The defence lawyers also stated that the suspects were detained and investigated in a Central Security Forces camp in Al-Salam city, which is not a legal detention centre. Additionally, as per the defence’s perspective, students were arrested randomly and arbitrary, not red-handed amid violent actions.
One of the defence lawyers told the court he wanted to submit hard evidence, which is a picture for one of the detained students actually holding a copy of an exam paper or what appears to be a studying paper, on claims that several defendants were taking exams before their arrest, and not participating in a protest.
Lawyers also said that the court branch looking into the case is illegal and violates the constitutional guarantees for the right of the defendant to be tried by his ordinary judge. The case had first been categorised as a misdemeanour offence but then was referred to criminal court, and then witnessed a change of judicial constituencies before the current.