Authorities decide to try Al-Jazeera producer on charge of “harming national interest”

Reporters Without Borders today condemned a decision by the judicial authorities on 27 January to initiate trial proceedings against Al-Jazeera TV producer Howayda Taha on a charge of “harming national interest” in a documentary she was preparing about police torture in Egypt.

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, where Al-Jazeera has its headquarters. She was charged after prosecutors viewed videotapes found in her baggage that contained re-enacted scenes of torture based on the accounts of victims.

“We are deeply concerned about the number of journalists and bloggers who are being brought before the courts in Egypt,” Reporters Without Borders 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.”

Supreme state security court prosecutor Hisham Badawi indicted Taha as a result of a judicial investigation that was launched on 13 January, five days after officials stopped her at Cairo airport and confiscated her laptop and 50 videotapes.

Taha was held overnight on 13 January, 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 10,000 pounds (1,360 euros).

Hussain Abdel-Ghani, the head of Al-Jazeera’s Cairo bureau, told Reporters Without Borders 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.

No date has yet been set for the trial, at which Taha will face a possible three-year prison sentence.

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