Al Jazeera journalist Abdullah el-Shamy records ominous smuggled message from Egypt jail

Al Jazeera Arabic journalist Abdullah el-Shamy appears in a video recorded in his prison cell in Egypt and posted online. YouTube

CAIRO -- Appearing weak but lucid, the haggard prisoner looks into the camera. Like most Egyptian prisoners awaiting trial, he wears a white jumpsuit. Jailhouse graffiti is scrawled across the pockmarked wall behind him.

"My name is Abdullah el-Shamy," he says tells a camera, or cameraphone, in a video posted online Thursday after being smuggled out of the prison walls. "If anything happens to me, whatever it is... my health fails totally, or anything happens to my safety, I hold the Egyptian regime" responsible.

El-Shamy is a journalist, a reporter for Al-Jazeera's Arabic service. He's been behind bars since August 14, 2013, when he was arrested while covering the violent dispersal of a sit-in protest against the detention of ousted Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohammed Morsi. Hundreds were killed as protest camps were raided by heavily armed police.

Later Thursday, after the video appeared online, a frail looking el-Shamy appeared in court and promised to stick to the hunger strike he began more than 100 days ago in protest of his nine-month-plus detention without any formal charges brought against him.

El-Shamy is one of at least 16,000 people arrested since the Egyptian military overthrew Morsi last summer and initiated a violent, sweeping crackdown against his supporters and the media.

The journalist's health has deteriorated significantly due to the hunger strike, according to Amnesty International, which says he and other detained journalists in Egypt are "prisoners of conscience."

"Abdullah el-Shamy was arrested simply for doing his job and his prolonged detention is groundless," Amnesty's Hassiba Hadj Sahraroui said in a statement. "He must be immediately and unconditionally released."

Relatives and supporters were disappointed Thursday, however, when the judge rejected el-Shamy's appeal against detention. Family members say he is now being held in solitary confinement in one of Egypt's most notorious prisons.

El-Shamy wasn't the only journalist on trial Thursday.

Three Al-Jazeera English journalists, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, appeared before a judge in the same courtroom earlier in the morning. They've been detained since December 29, 2013 and are charged with supporting terror groups and spreading false news.

In Thursday's session, lawyers said the prosecution had demanded the defense pay more than $170,000 in fees to release copies of the video evidence gathered against the journalists. Months into the trial, the journalists' lawyers have yet to see any of the evidence gathered by prosecutors against their clients.

Bureaucratic hurdles and red tape are common enough in this country, but multiple lawyers said Thursday that this was the first time they've seen Egypt's prosecutors take the unusual step of not giving the defense easy access to evidence.

"The idea that lawyers need to pay 1.2 million Egyptian pounds to get access to the evidence is preposterous," Fahmy shouted at reporters from behind the bars of the defendants' cage. "It's unbelievable."

  • Alex Ortiz

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