Journalists condemn Egyptian sentences
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) have strongly condemned the decision of an Egyptian court to impose prison sentences on Al Jazeera journalists.
Nairobi-based Al Jazeera English reporter, Australian Peter Greste; Al Jazeera English Cairo bureau chief, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy; and Al Jazeera producer, Baher Mohamed, were sentenced to seven years in prison for spreading false news and supporting the banned Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood. Mohamed was sentenced to a further three years in jail on a separate charge involving possession of ammunition: a spent bullet he found on the ground during a protest!
Other Al Jazeera journalists, Alaa Bayoumi, Anas Abdel-Wahab Khalawi Hasan, Khaleel Aly Khaleel Bahnasy, Mohamed Fawzi, Dominic Kane, Rena Netjes and Sue Turton were sentenced to 10 years in absentia.
The three journalists have been detained since 29 December – for part of that time in solitary confinement. The NUJ has campaigned since the arrests and has led a number of protests outside the Egyptian embassy. Jeremy Corbyn MP and I had a 40-minute meeting with Ashraf Elkholy, the Egyptian ambassador, and delivered a letter from the union expressing our concern about the “arrests and brutal attacks used to attempt to silence journalists and prevent them from doing their job”.
This is an outrageous decision and a travesty of justice made by a kangaroo court. Evidence presented to the court by the prosecution included holiday photographs of Peter Greste’s parents, a recording of popular Australian singer Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know; Greste’s award-winning reports from East Africa, Sky News Arabia’s tourism reports, poorly photoshopped images and BBC podcasts.
These sentences have been meted out to journalists who were merely doing their job. This is a brutal regime which is attacking and arresting many journalists to attempt to silence them and prevent them from reporting events. Al Jazeera has rejected the charges against its journalists and maintains their innocence.
The British and Irish governments must immediately signal their opposition to this verdict and do all they can to have the sentences overturned. The NUJ is calling on all media organisations to register their protest in support of colleagues at Al Jazeera and all the Egyptian journalists who have been attacked and arrested by their country’s authorities. Governments must not be allowed to deny journalists, wherever they are, the right to be able to report independently and in safety. The freedom of journalists is an integral part of any democratic process.
IFJ Senior Vice President, Younes Mjahed, said:
“The verdict of the court, despite the lack of evidence and bizarre court proceedings over more than a dozen hearings, is an appalling attack on press freedom and carries an implicit threat to all media working in Egypt. Journalists covering the complex political and social situation in Egypt must not be made responsible for incidents that occur. These journalists were doing their job, as is the case in other parts of the world.”
Irish NUJ Secretary Séamus Dooley added:
“We call on An Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs to make an immediate protest against this scandalous treatment of journalists. There must be universal condemnation of this infringement of the basic right to freedom of expression.”