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Court rejects journalist’s appeal against 3-year prison sentence issued in absentia
Journalist Hamdy al-Zaeem

After being held for over 20 months in remand detention, an appeal filed by journalist Hamdy al-Zaeem against a three-year prison sentence and a LE10,000 fine issued in absentia in a separate case was rejected on Tuesday, according to Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) lawyer Amr Mohamed.

Zaeem’s lawyer told Mada Masr that the journalist, who works for the London-based Hayat newspaper, intends to file a second appeal to the Sayeda Zeinab Misdemeanor Court against the sentence issued to him in absentia in 2015. Zaeem had submitted his first appeal to the court in June of this year, while officials processed his release procedures from remand detention in relation to a separate case.

The case in which the journalist has been charged dates back to July 1, 2015, when Zaeem was arrested while reporting on the families of a number of nine Muslim Brotherhood leaders killed in a raid earlier that day. He accompanied the families as they received the remains of their relatives from the Zeinhom morgue, Mohamed told Mada Masr.

According to the lawyer, while at the morgue, a verbal altercation broke out between Zaeem, several other journalists and a number of security personnel assigned to secure the premises because the Hayat journalist did not have the necessary permit allowing him access to the morgue, or a Journalists Syndicate membership card.

Following this July arrest, Zaeem was held in remand detention for two months and released from police custody on September 1, 2015, according to the annual report prepared by the Journalists Syndicate Freedoms Committee in the same year.

However, Zaeem was arrested once more in September 2016 while filming a video report near the Journalists Syndicate, alongside journalist Osama Gaber, Mohamed said.

The ANHRI lawyer added that a quarrel occurred between Zaeem and a number of passersby, who wanted to speak about the increasing cost of living in Egypt and the ongoing economic crisis as part of the report, although this was unrelated to the subject matter of Zaeem’s assignment.

Following this incident, security forces arrested the journalists and they were accused by the Central Cairo Prosecution of joining an outlawed group, spreading false news, inciting demonstrations and possessing and obtaining publications and recordings promoting the disruption of constitutional provisions.

The journalists were held in remand detention pending further investigations until April 29 of this year, when a Cairo criminal court issued conditional release orders to Zaeem and journalist Mohamed Hassan, who had intervened in the September 2016 altercation in defense of Zaeem and Gaber and was arrested with them. A different criminal court ordered for Gaber’s release.

However, an appeal against the conditional release orders submitted by the prosecution on April 30 was accepted, and Zaeem and Hassan’s remand detention was extended by 45 days. Prosecutors also appealed Gaber’s release order, but this appeal was rejected and Gaber has since been released.

A second conditional release order was issued to Zaeem and Hassan by the South Cairo Criminal Court on June 11, which was also appealed by the prosecution. This appeal was rejected and the two journalists were conditionally released several days later, following the completion of their release procedures. 

In recent months, there has been a spate of arrests and detention order renewals for journalists, bloggers and activists, prompting the New York-based Human Rights Watch to release a report on July 14 criticizing the Egyptian government for prosecuting political opponents under emergency and counterterrorism legislation.