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Al Jazeera denounces Egyptian TV airing of arrest video

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CAIRO -- The Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera on Monday objected strongly to the airing on Egyptian television of a video showing the arrest of two of its journalists, saying the leaked images were a clear attempt to stir up public sentiment against the pair in advance of any trial.

The two, Egyptian-Canadian bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy and Australian correspondent Peter Greste, are among 20 Al Jazeera journalists accused by Egyptian prosecutors of supporting or joining a terrorist group.

The case has drawn sharp denunciations from human rights groups and media advocacy organizations, who have cited the chilling effect on media freedoms under Egypt’s military-backed interim government.

The video, shown Sunday night on private Tahrir television, was accompanied by a booming, ominous-sounding soundtrack, and featured lingering shots of ordinary journalistic paraphernalia such as laptop computers and microphones. It was apparently shot with a mobile phone by someone taking part in the Dec. 29 raid on Al Jazeera English’s working quarters in a hotel suite in central Cairo.

Tahrir TV did not say how it obtained the footage, but Al Jazeera said the nearly 22-minute presentation represented an attempt to “demonize” the two journalist. The broadcaster also said the images would prejudice any forthcoming legal proceedings against them and their colleagues.

The arrests, and the pushing forward of the case by prosecutors, raised the troubling prospect that merely covering news events involving the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement of deposed president Mohamed Morsi, could lead to detention and prosecution.

Virtually all Egyptian media outlets affiliated with the Brotherhood were swiftly shut down after the July coup that ousted Morsi, but the Al Jazeera case represents the first prosecution since then aimed at foreigners working as correspondents in Egypt.

Al Jazeera has been a particular target of the Egyptian authorities, as its Arabic branch was essentially the only Arabic-language channel viewable in Egypt that was critical of the interim government in the wake of the coup. Egypt is also openly furious with Qatar, which called for Morsi’s reinstatement after the army deposed him following mass demonstrations against his rule.

Al Jazeera English, for which Fahmy and Greste worked, offers a news product comparable to that of other international broadcasters such as the BBC or CNN. Its executives pointed to the absurdity of the journalists’ possession of basic news-gathering equipment being presented as evidence of wrongdoing.

“The video ridiculously sets images of our crew’s laptops, cameras and mobile phones against dramatic music,” said Salah Negm, director of news for Al Jazeera English. “People who look beyond the propaganda, though, will see the video shows what we have been saying all along -- that our crew were journalists doing their job.”

The video shows scenes of the two being interrogated, with Fahmy answering questions in Arabic about his pay and why the two were working out of a hotel. Egypt’s overwhelmingly pro-government media have taken to referring to the men as the “Marriott cell.”

In the video, Fahmy, who was wearing a brace for an earlier injury to his right shoulder, appears to be in discomfort, at several points rubbing or grasping his upper right arm. Family members have said he has received no medical attention for the injury during the nearly six weeks he has been behind bars.

Egyptian authorities have said the two were working without proper accreditation. In the video, Fahmy can be seen telling his questioners that the two journalists had applied for credentials but had not yet received them.

The video ends with an image of the two being loaded into a light-colored van.

laura.king@latimes.com
Twitter: @laurakingLAT  

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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