Free our journalist colleagues in Egypt
Journalists, politicians and human rights activists will gathering tomorrow outside the Egyptian embassy in London to demand an end to the intimidation of journalists and media suppression in Egypt and to call for the immediate release of all detained journalists. If you can’t be there – and even if you can – please sign the petition for their release, and encourage everyone you know to do the same.
The demonstration, organised by the National Union of Journalists, is being held the day before the trial of four journalists in Egypt. The journalists face charges that could see foreign-born journalists face up to seven years in jail and Egyptian journalists up to 15 years.
The situation facing journalists working in Egypt is dire. The arrests and brutal attacks are a deliberate attempt to silence journalists and prevent them from doing their job – giving citizens access to vital information and news. The trial of Al Jazeera English journalists, on ludicrous allegations of damaging national security, should be halted and all journalists immediately released. This repression of all journalists in the country, who are operating under outrageous pressure and intimidation, undermines press freedom in Egypt and calls into question the government’s attitude to basic human rights.
The Al Jazeera English journalists currently in detention are Peter Greste, Mohammed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohammed, who have been detained by the Egyptian authorities since 29 December 2013. Their colleague Abdullah Al Shami, of Al Jazeera Arabic, has been detained since 14 August 2013 and is in the third week of a hunger-strike.
In a letter smuggled from his cell, Peter Greste said:
“The fact that this has put us behind bars is especially alarming given the historical moment Egypt now finds itself in.”
Writing of his colleagues, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed he said they were being held in worse conditions that he was and have been accused of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“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.”
The Egyptian authorities published a list of 20 journalists on 5 February, accusing them of aiding terrorists while working in the country. Of the 20, nine are Al Jazeera staff. One of those was Sue Turton, an award-winning correspondent who worked for Sky News, ITN and Channel 4 prior to Al Jazeera, and who has reported from Afghanistan, Libya and Ukraine. She told me:
“I am astounded that a warrant is out for my arrest because of my reporting in Egypt last year. I didn’t treat the situation there any differently to every other story I’ve reported on in almost 25 years as a TV reporter. I have no allegiance to any political group in Egypt or anywhere else and no desire to promote any one point of view.”
She was just doing her job and should have the freedom to do so.
The trial starts at a time when journalists are coming under increasing attack in Egypt. The Egypt Journalists’ Syndicate issued a condemnation against the interior ministry recently after reporters covering protests in Cairo were assaulted, their equipment seized, and even shot at with live ammunition; 19 journalists were arrested in a single day.
Photographer Mohamed Fawzy remains critically injured after being shot whilst working. The EJS accused the interior ministry of inciting citizens against with misinformation and false accusations. The latest violence came after sustained attacks in recent months, which have seen six journalists killed in the country and several media channels shut down after military intervention.
Those killed include Mick Deane, a Sky News cameraman who was shot while covering events in Cairo on 14 August. It was the same day hundreds were killed when Egyptian security and military forces stormed two protest camps in Rabia and Al Nahda squares. Habiba Ahmed Abd El Aziz, a journalist in Gulf News, UAE was shot dead on the same day. Ahmed Abdel Gawad, a reporter for Al Akhbar newspaper, was killed while covering the crackdown at Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque, as was photographer Mosab El-Shami, working for for Rassd news website (RNN) mosque.
This situation must stop. The international community must put pressure on the Egyptian authorities to stop this attack on journalists and freedom of speech.