Thursday, January 30, 2014

Twenty Al-Jazeera Journalists To Be Tried In Egypt



Media freedom in Egypt took a turn for the worse Wednesday, after the prosecutor’s office charged 20 journalists of the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera of “membership of a terrorist organisation” and “undermining national unity and social peace by broadcasting false information.”

The onslaught by the Egyptian government installed after the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohammad Morsi regime last year, has intensified in recent times against journalists seen as supporting the Brotherhood. As far as foreign correspondents go, journalists from media organisations based in two countries – Qatar and Turkey – also seen as supportive of the deposed Muslim Brotherhood government have been the main targets.


The Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said that on August 28 ‘Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr’ (a Cairo-based Al-Jazeera affiliate) was declared illegal and on September 3, it, and three other channels, was closed on the grounds of “threatening social peace,” “disseminating rumours and false, misleading reports” and “inciting hatred and public disorder.”

On September 10, the Cairo offices of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) were raided by the police. Mounting intimidation led to TRT suspending its operations temporarily, said RSF.

RSF said of the 20 journalists, 16 who are Egyptian have been charged for membership of a terrorist organisation. The other four are Australian Peter Greste, two Britons and a Dutch citizen. They are charged with “collaborating with [these] Egyptians by provide them with money, equipment and information (…) and broadcasting unreal scenes to give the impression to the outside world that there is a civil war.”

The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said “This is the first instance of terror-related charges against journalists and foreigners since the government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation in December. Al-Jazeera has denied the charges, demanding its reporters be freed.”

Of the 20, eight are already in custody the others have been declared as fugitives by the Egyptian government.

IFJ said Greste, a Peabody Prize winning Australian journalist and former BBC correspondent had written emotional letters, smuggled out of prison, about the conditions in which he and his colleagues are held.  

“In the letters, he said that he had his first walk in the ‘weak winter sunshine’ after spending ten days being locked in his cell 24 hours a day when not being questioned, while he expressed his fear that writing the letters might result in his harsh treatment, saying: ‘I am nervous as I write this. I am in my cold prison cell after my first official exercise session - four glorious hours in the grass yard behind our block and I don’t want that right to be snatched away.”

He said that his two colleagues Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were held in worse conditions as they were accused of membership of the Muslim Brotherhood. Wrote Greste: “Both men spend 24 hours a day in their mosquito-infested cells, sleeping on the floor with no books or writing materials to break the soul-destroying tedium.”

“This attempt to criminalize legitimate journalistic work is what distorts Egypt’s image abroad. The government’s lack of tolerance shows that it is unable to handle criticism,” said Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa Coordinator of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “We call on authorities to drop these outrageous charges and release all journalists from jail immediately.”

IFJ and its affiliate Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance have also published statements and written letters demanding the release of the Al-Jazeera journalists.

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