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VICE News

Lots of People Are on Trial in Egypt

Former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, on trial with 130 others, screamed at his trial judge. And 20 detained journalists faced charges.

by Danny Gold
Jan 29 2014, 11:50pm

While Egypt struggles to return to normalcy after years of upheaval, one facet of civil society seems to have grown incredibly efficient: the court system. This week in Egypt, everybody’s on trial.

Mohamed Morsi, the deposed president and leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, was clearly none too pleased that he was standing trial in a country he once presided over. Pacing in a soundproof cage in the courtroom on January 28, Morsi screamed, “Who are you? Tell me!” at Judge Shabaan el-Shami. The judge responded, “I am the head of Egypt’s criminal court!”

Morsi, on trial with 130 others, faces charges related to the escape of thousands of inmates (including himself) during Egypt’s 2011 revolution. He faces a life sentence in this trial, but has three other trials pending where he could face the death penalty.

His trial is adjourned to February 22.

In other Egyptian court news, the country's chief prosecutor referred 20 Al Jazeera journalists to trial. The journalists, including four foreigners, are charged with spreading false news and joining or assisting a terrorist group. Three were arrested shortly before the New Year's Day, including Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Peter Greste, an Australian citizen.

Greste has recently been able to smuggle letters out of jail in which he wrote about the harsh conditions he's enduring in Tora Prison. Despite the risk in doing so, Greste said that staying silent “validates an attack not just on me and my two colleagues, but on freedom of speech across Egypt.”

Al Jazeera has been barred from broadcasting in Egypt since September, with many Egyptians accusing the station of being biased against the Muslim Brotherhood.

One of the journalists charged, Abdullah Elshamy, has started a hunger strike. His brother, Mosa’ab Elshamy, also a journalist, posted a letter from Abdullah — who has been imprisoned since August — on Facebook. In his statement, Elshamy stood by his reporting:

I do not belong to any group or ideology. I belong to my conscience and my humanity, and I do not take interest in what is being said in the local media about me or my colleagues. History doesn't forget. I chose to be on hunger strike to send a few messages; one to journalists who choose to falsify the facts and cover up for the violations of freedoms and media, the other to the Egyptian junta that I do not fear losing my life in my struggle for freedom. Nothing will break my will or dignity.

Another brother, photojournalist Mohamed Elshamy, was coincidentally also detained and then released yesterday for “having a camera."