The Cairo Criminal Court held its first session in the trial of photojournalist Ahmed Gamal Ziada Monday.
Ziada has been held in Abu Zaabal prison since December 2013 on charges of illegal protests during clashes in students’ demonstrations at Al-Azhar University.
The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) said the court will resume the hearing in the case Tuesday. Ziada is being tried before a division of the court that is in charge of looking into terrorism charges, and has been in prison for nearly 430 days.
According to a new court structure established in December 2013, six divisions affiliated with the Cairo and Giza Criminal Courts were designated to look into cases of “organised violence and acts of terrorism,” state-run newspaper Al-Ahram reported. Those specialised commissions of judges hold trial sessions only for two weeks in one month.
Ziada is accused of 12 crimes as reported by AFTE, including joining a terrorist group, breaching the Protest Law, setting fire to the Faculty of Commerce’s building, damaging public institutions and assaulting police and security officers.
Yehia Khalaf Allah, manager of Yaqeen Network, a private online newspaper for which Ziada was covering the events, told Daily News Egypt Monday the paper presented all official documents stating Ziada was on a work assignment.
“Evidence includes his press card, camera, mic, all with the network’s logo, in addition to a stamped letter submitted to prosecution authorities,” Khalaf Allah said. When asked about the potential supporting role of the Press Syndicate, he said the website was not registered.
While most journalists in Egypt face restrictions, risks of arrest and killings especially while covering areas of clashes, it is usually harder to provide legal assistance for reporters unregistered with the syndicate. The law might not even recognise such journalists.
Khalaf Allah said another Yaqeen press photographer was previously arrested in similar circumstances but was finally acquitted. “He was imprisoned for six months,” he told Daily News Egypt.
Meanwhile, Mohamed Ziada, has been actively speaking out against the conditions of detention of his brother. According to statement published by independent organisation Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Mohamed said his brother was subject to physical abuse and beating when he announced a hunger strike last September. The hunger strike is frequently used as a means of pressure by prisoners of conscience and their supporters.
EIPR quoted Mohamed as saying his jailed brother, who had only been working as a journalist for two years, regretted pursuing that career as it led to putting him behind bars and crushing his hopes. In a letter by Ziada himself, published by independent group Journalists Against Torture, he slammed local newspapers for failing to mention his case and the case of many other detainees. This was particularly so given that they were “were neither Muslim Brotherhood nor April 6, despite that belonging to either should not be a crime”.
“Does the president care about his last promise to release the revolutionists in the memorial of the revolution and he released Alaa and Gamal Mubarak?! And in his last speech, he promised to release the first numbers of the oppressed so that they have the hope to be released but at the end we found that the first release was for the criminal Habib El-Adly!” Mohamed wrote on his official Facebook account on 28 February.