Egyptian court acquits journalist Ahmed Gamal Ziyada on 2013 criminal charges

Ahram Online , Wednesday 29 Apr 2015

After more than 486 days in jail awaiting then facing trial, journalist Ahmed Gamal Ziyada is acquitted of charges leveled at him while covering a protest

Journalist Ahmed Gamal Ziyada
Journalist Ahmed Gamal Ziyada (Al-Ahram)

A Cairo criminal court has acquitted journalist Ahmed Gamal Ziyada, after he spent more than 486 days in pre-trial detention.

The court acquitted 12 other defendants and sentenced 63 to up to seven years in jail for illegal protesting and rioting at Al-Azhar University in December 2013.

A Cairo criminal court on Wednesday acquitted journalist Ahmed Gamal Ziyada on criminal charges after he spent more 486 days in pre-trial detention.

The court also acquitted 12 other defendants and sentenced 63 to up to seven years in jail for illegal protesting and rioting at Al-Azhar University in December 2013.

The prosecution accused the defendants of illegal assembly, destroying public property, intimidating public servants, and rioting.

Ziyada, a photojournalist at Yaqeen Online News Network, was arrested by security forces while covering the protests and clashes between pro-Morsi students and security forces. 

The prosecution also accused the defendants of attacking two police officers, disturbing public peace and setting fire to the commerce faculty building with Molotov cocktails.

"I did not have a gun or Molotov cocktail or even a stone, so I did not fear being arrested at the protest. I did not have anything except my camera which the police considered a weapon," said Ziyada in a recent letter from behind bars. 

Ziyada sent several messages from behind bars at Abu Zaabal prison affirming his innocence from the government's charges. 

One of his letters sparked controversy last March after he wrote that inmates at Abu Zaabal prison were subjected to physical abuse and mistreatment. 

The letter led the state body for human rights to visit the prison and issue a report confirming that inmates had been mistreated. 

According to Ziyada's lawyer he is scheduled to be released later on Wednesday. 

"Nevertheless, knowing the usual routine of the interior ministry, it may take two days for this to happen," Ziyada's lawyer Mounir Mokhtar told Ahram Online. 

"This court ruling is every important because it proves journalists were only doing their job while they were covering the protests and they should not have been arrested," the human rights activist said. 

"We are going to use the verdict in other cases concerning detained journalists arrested while covering protests and clashes," he added. 

According to human rights activists at least 70 Egyptian journalists have been detained pending investigation and trial since July 2013.

Mokhtar said that he was not yet aware of Ziyada’s reaction to the news of his acquittal.

"Gamal did not attend the court session on Wednesday, we do not know why," Mokhtar explained. 

Human rights activists have criticised what they described as the government's double standard in the treatment of Egyptian and foreign journalist who have been arrested and accused of similar crimes.

Critics have pointed out that the government chooses to keep Egyptian journalists under long-term detention or dragged-out trials , such as in the case of Ziyada or freelance journalist Mahmoud Abu Ziad "Shawkan," while passing legislation that allowed for the release from jail and the deportation of foreign journalists such as  Al Jazeera's Australian journalist Peter Greste.

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