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Case of Al-Jazeera journalist accused of endangering Egypt's national interest to go to trial

Case of Al-Jazeera journalist accused of endangering Egypt's national interest to go to trial

Egypt has launched trial proceedings against a journalist for the pan-Arab Al-Jazeera Television accused of harming the country's national interest, the state prosecutor's office and the channel said Sunday.
The case is that of Howaida Taha, 43, Egyptian documentary producer for Al-Jazeera who was detained earlier this month after 50 videotapes were confiscated by police from her luggage at the Cairo airport.
Taha was held for over a day and interrogated about the footage which authorities said contained fabricated scenes of torture by Egyptian police.
Egyptian prosecutors accused Taha of "practicing activities that harm the national interest of the country" and of "possessing and giving false pictures about the internal situation in Egypt that could undermine the dignity of the country."
Taha was later released on bail pending trial.
At the time, Taha told The Associated Press the footage she produced was created with actors for the purpose of a documentary film about police torture in Egypt and that she had "filmed with the authorities' permission."
Taha subsequently left for Qatar and is currently back in Doha, Hussein Abdel Ghani, the Al-Jazeera bureau chief in Cairo, said on Sunday.
No trial date has been set yet in Taha's case, an official with the prosecutor's office said, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to media. Taha, who will likely be tried in absentia unless she returns to Egypt for the proceedings, faces up to three years in prison if convicted.
Abdel Ghani has publicly defended Taha, saying that reconstructing scenes with actors _ such as in Taha's footage _ is a well-known method in the production of documentaries.
Al-Jazeera is "not the only network to talk about (police) torture," said Abdel Ghani, himself briefly detained by police for his coverage of terrorist attacks in Egypt last April.
Egyptian authorities have been increasingly sensitive about leaked videos showing citizens, both men and women, tortured in police stations. Rights groups say torture, including sexual abuse, is routinely conducted in Egyptian police stations.
The government denies systematic torture, but has investigated several officers on allegations of abuse. Some were convicted and sentenced to prison.
In November, several Egyptian bloggers posted a video depicting a man, naked from the waist down, being sodomized at a police station. The man was later identified as Imad el-Kabir, 21, a bus driver.
The case sparked a public uproar, and two police officers were jailed pending investigation into sexual assault allegations. However, el-Khabir was also imprisoned last week, for resisting authorities.
Egyptian Interior Minister Habib el-Adly told Egyptian state television on Friday that many in the country are "upset about ... some videos, newspapers and some critics who were trying to increase the view of police hostility."
"I consider this to be an intended unpatriotic campaign," el-Adly said.
Several leading Egyptian human rights groups have said that Taha's case was part of "an ongoing policy of terrorizing the voices that are revealing torture" in Egypt.
Al-Jazeera, watched by millions of Arab viewers, has extensively covered anti-government demonstrations and the activities of opposition groups in Egypt, as well as terrorist attacks against the U.S. ally.
But the channel has also been accused of bias by Washington and encountered problems in several Arab countries. Its reporters have been barred by Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.
Accusations that Egypt is imposing severe freedom of speech restrictions have mounted recently.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch on Saturday demanded that authorities drop all charges against blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil, on trial since earlier this month. Nabil, 22, was arrested in November for denouncing Islamic authorities and criticizing President Hosni Mubarak on his Arabic-language blog. He faces up to nine years in prison if convicted.
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Updated : 2021-04-17 10:44 GMT+08:00