CAIRO: Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned a decision by judicial authorities on Jan. 27 to initiate trial proceedings against Al-Jazeera TV producer Howayda Taha.
Taha was charged with “harming national interest in a documentary she was preparing about police torture in Egypt.
“We are deeply concerned about the number of journalists and bloggers who are being brought before the courts in Egypt, RSF said. “Like so many other journalists, Taha is paying a high price for denouncing the abusive practices of a regime that is unable to shake off its old authoritarian reflexes.
Taha was detained for 24 hours earlier this month, a few days after being stopped at Cairo airport as she was about to fly to Qatar, which houses Al-Jazeera’s headquarters. She was charged after prosecutors viewed videotapes found in her baggage that contained reenacted scenes of torture based on the accounts of victims.
Taha was held overnight on Jan. 13, subjected to several interrogation sessions and then charged with “harming the national interest and “fabricating images prejudicial to the country’s reputation. She was released the following day after paying bail of LE 10,000.
A high ranking police official at the interior ministry told The Daily Star Egypt in a previous interview that Taha had arrived in Cairo to work on a documentary about Egyptian arts and crafts but that it was later discovered she had been working on alleged police abuse and torture, which the Egyptian Press Office had not approved.
He said the confiscated tapes included footage of mock torture scenes, including a video of a woman tied upside down and reportedly confessing to murder, which he said had been faked by Taha and her crew.
Hussain Abdel-Ghani, the head of Al-Jazeera’s Cairo bureau, however told RSF that the station obtained all the necessary permissions from the interior ministry before Taha began making her documentary about alleged police mistreatment. As a result, Taha was able to interview senior internal security officials and attend police training seminars as part of the preparation.
Supreme state security court prosecutor Hisham Badawi indicted Taha as a result of a judicial investigation that was launched on Jan. 13, five days after officials stopped her at Cairo airport and confiscated her laptop and 50 videotapes.
Sources at Al-Jazeera previously told The Daily Star Egypt that 16 of these confiscated tapes contained footage, interviews, and research material and that the remaining 34 were empty.
No date has yet been set for the trial, at which Taha will face a possible three-year prison sentence.