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Al-Jazeera TV journalist sentenced 6 months in jail in Egypt

Al-Jazeera TV journalist sentenced 6 months in jail in Egypt

An Egyptian court on Wednesday sentenced an Al-Jazeera TV journalist to six months in jail, pronouncing her guilty of harming the country's interests by allegedly fabricating torture scenes for a documentary.
Howaida Taha, 43, dismissed the verdict against her as political and vindictive in a country "with no independent judiciary," and said the story was accurate.
Egyptian authorities arrested the Al-Jazeera producer and confiscated 50 videotapes at Cairo International Airport in January. Taha, who is currently in Qatar, was not present in the state security courtroom for the verdict.
"It's an unjust, vindictive ruling by the government's judiciary as there is no independent judiciary in my country," Taha, a native Egyptian, told The Associated Press by phone from Doha, where Al-Jazeera is based. "It's a political verdict, not a legal one."
The pan-Arab satellite station reported the verdict during its newscast but did not immediately comment on it. Aref Al-Hejjawi, director of Al-Jazeera's documentary programs, told the AP the station was "waiting to hear" from its lawyer.
Taha also was ordered to pay a fine of US$3,500 (euro2,575) for "possessing, making and handling of pictures and recordings that hurt the country's reputation and reflect improper and untrue situations."
She has denied the charges and said she obtained the permission necessary to film the documentary.
The journalist, who is known for years of criticism of the Egyptian regime in written columns published in the London-based pan-Arab daily newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabia, said she does not have any regrets.
"I have the chance, I will reveal the (Egyptian) government's corruption and oppression," she said.
Taha, whose husband and three children remain in Egypt, said she was consulting with her lawyer on her next move. To appeal the verdict, she would have to return to Egypt. She could avoid being jailed during the appeal process if she pays a court-ordered bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (US$1,759, euro 1,287.5), according the court verdict.
Taha's two-hour documentary entitled "Beyond the Sun" was aired on Al-Jazeera TV in April, since Taha had kept copies of the tapes confiscated by authorities.
The documentary contained interviews with people who said they were victims of torture at Egyptian police stations, as well as some reconstruction scenes with actors displaying methods of torture. Taha also interviewed human rights activists and former senior police officials.
Al-Jazeera is watched by millions of Arab viewers and has aggressively covered terrorist attacks in Egypt as well as anti-government demonstrations and activities of opposition groups. But the TV channel has also been accused of bias by Washington and has had its reporters barred by Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.
Rights groups say torture, including sexual abuse, is routinely conducted in Egyptian police stations. The government, which is sensitive about the issue, 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 showing a man naked from the waist down being sodomized with a stick. The man was later identified as bus driver Imad el-Kabir, 21. The case sparked a public uproar, and two police officers, accused of sexually assaulting him, are currently on trial.
Ahead of Thursday's World Press Freedom Day, the Committee to Protect Journalists included Egypt _ which it said launched 85 criminal cases against the press between 2004 and 2006 _ on its "Top 10 Backsliders" list of deteriorating press freedoms.
"The rapid retreats in nations where the media have thrived demonstrate just how easily the fundamental right to press freedom can be taken away," said CPJ's chief Joel Simon.
The oldest watchdog group in Cairo, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, said the verdict against Taha was a "new setback to freedom of opinion and expression." In January, the group had said Taha's arrest reflected "an ongoing policy of terrorizing the voices that are revealing torture in Egypt."


Updated : 2021-05-15 14:35 GMT+08:00