Egyptian Court Lets al-Jazeera Journalists Speak But Not Go Free

CAIRO (McClatchy Foreign Staff/MCT) -

An Egyptian court held its fourth session Monday in the criminal case against three al-Jazeera journalists accused of fabricating news and running a terror cell on behalf of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood. But when the prosecution failed for the third time to provide the key video evidence against the journalists, the judge instead dramatically entertained bail for the reporters, who have been held since Dec. 29.

In the end, bail was — again — denied. But the judge’s decision to let the defendants address the court directly was unprecedented in the Egyptian judicial system, even if it did not lead to their provisional release.

Why the judge gave all signs that he saw the limits of the prosecution’s case against the three, only to deny them bail, was not immediately clear. The judge, Mohammed Nagy, has been under increasing pressure from both local news media and the country’s interim president, Adly Mansour, to free the journalists, one of whom is Australian and another a dual Canadian-Egyptian national.

One, Mohammed Fadel Fahmy, the dual national and the Cairo bureau chief for the English-language service of the satellite news channel, had called it “the make or break day of the trial.” In the end, though, the proceeding turned into the biggest letdown of the case so far.