The Cairo Criminal Court adjourned Wednesday the trial of detained photojournalist Ahmed Gamal Ziada and 76 Al-Azhar University students to 5 April, and ordered the release of the female defendants in the case pending trial.
The group were accused of engaging in violent protests supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and setting fire to Al-Azhar University’s Faculty of Commerce in December 2013.
Defence lawyers made different arguments aimed at proving the defendants are not the real criminals, and that the legal grounds for their arrests are weak. One lawyer stated that his student was taking an exam during the hours the police claimed the fire erupted.
Another lawyer pleaded that her client is a member of Tamarod (Rebel) Movement, which called for the protests of 30 June 2013 against the Muslim Brotherhood regime, and was the army’s major supporting group of youth at the time.
Lawyers also claimed testimonies by police officers were inaccurate about the time of the incidents, demanding the court to believe that police officers made random arrests only to build a case. In addition, lawyers said security forces failed to prevent the alleged criminals from committing the incidents, despite previously stating in court that they had initial information regarding possible violence on that day.
The court session is the last, as the judge will hear the defence argument of the remaining defendants, in preparation for the verdict, defence lawyer Mokhtar Mounir told Daily News Egypt.
A legal representative from the Press Syndicate attended the trial in solidarity with Ziada, but declined to comment to the press.
Mahmoud Kamel, member of the syndicate’s council, also attended the session, and told Daily News Egypt outside the courtroom he is planning to request a visit to Ziada in jail.
In a brief discussion, Kamel spoke of the general situation for journalists in Egypt.
“We are currently working with the syndicate to prevent the detention of journalists,” Kamel said. “We followed the recent arrest of several journalists and they were released.”
Kamel said he hopes the syndicate will adopt new decisions enabling the improvement in the situation of journalists. This would be not only regarding detention, but also regarding their legal status within their institutions, to protect journalists from arbitrary expulsion as well.
As for journalists’ killings, Kamel said he was working with the syndicate to demand the Prosecution General authorities re-open investigations in those cases.
The Al-Azhar University case is being looked into by a judicial division from the criminal court in charge of terrorist affairs.
Lawyer Mokhtar Mounir believes his defendant, Ahmed Gamal Ziada, is a victim of authorities’ fabricated charges of breaking the Protest Law. The photojournalist has also been charged with assaulting security officers and disturbing public order, in addition to the charges related to burning down the faculty building of Azhar University.
“He is a journalist and he was doing job,” Mokhtar repeatedly told Daily News Egypt.
On a further note, Ziada has been sending letters from jail with his family during prison visits. He claimed systematic torture practices in the prison of Abu Za’abal.
The state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) confirmed reports of beating, maltreatment, inhuman conditions of detention for the prisoners of the same prison they visited Monday following the complaints.
The NCHR filed an official complaint to the Prosecutor General, Hisham Barakat, demanding investigations into the alleged incidents. The council also refused to use the word “torture”, but confirmed beating marks on Ziada’s body.
Barakat responded to the report on human rights abuses of prisoners, by issuing a decision to conduct “surprise inspections” in seven prisons.
It is expected that Abu Za’abal prison is concerned with the decision, yet the remaining prisons will not be revealed.
Barakat also referred Ziada and three others whom had met with NCHR’S delegation to Forensic Medicine Authority to decide on torture practices.
Additionally, Ziada had reported on his cellmate, a student named Ali Kaoud. Ziada said Kaoud was severely beaten and that prison authorities deported him to an “unknown location” ahead of NCHR’s delegation visit.
NCHR confirmed that Kaoud was missing with no valid explanation for his absence on behalf of prison authorities.
During Wednesday’s trial session for the Al-Azhar University students, Kaoud’s lawyer demanded the court take note of the complaint regarding torture allegations. However the judge refused to do so and explained that prosecution authorities were the concerned legal body to deal with the complaint not court.