Calls for release of Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt

25th Apr 2014

Calls for release of Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt

Australian correspondent Peter Greste and Canadians Mohamed Fadel Fahmy (Cairo Bureau Chief) and Baher Mohamed (Producer) were arrested on December 29, 2013


Shakira Saleem

Calls for the Al-Jazeera journalists imprisoned in Egypt to be released by press freedom advocates have intensified after three of the four foreign journalists detained passed the 100 days in prison mark.

Australian correspondent  Peter Greste and Canadians Mohamed Fadel Fahmy (Cairo Bureau Chief) and Baher Mohamed (Producer) were arrested on December 29, 2013 in a raid on the hotel they were staying by Egyptian police. They have been in Cairo’s Tora military jail ever since, sharing a small cell with primitive facilities.

They were accused, along with 17 other defendants, of spreading “false news” and having links to the Muslim Brotherhood, which the military-backed Government banned the group after ousting first democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi in July.

According to the International Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) more than 60 journalists have been detained in Egypt since July and use legal harassment and arbitrary detention as means to silence critical journalists is common practise.

Al-Jazeera maintains the charges are “absurd, baseless and false”.

Another Al-Jazeera journalist, Abdullah al-Sharmi, has been held for more than six months and has committed to a hunger strike since January 23; on March 13 his time at the prison was extended for a further 45 days. The Prosecutor’s office explained that the 16 Egyptian Al-Jazeera journalists were charged with belonging to a “terrorist organisation, harming national unity and social peace.”

The four foreigners were accused of “collaborating with the Egyptians by providing them with money, equipment, information and airing false news to inform the outside world that the country was witnessing a civil war.”

Al-Jazeera denies these charges insisting there’s no justification for the detention of these journalists for such a long time; they insist calls for the immediate release of their staff.

Managing Director of Al-Jazeera English, Al Anstey, said the men are behind bars “for simply doing their job, and for carrying out the highest quality journalism. The charges against them are false and baseless, so there is no justification whatsoever in the detention of innocent journalists for such an outrageous amount of time. We continue to call for their immediate release and for the release of our colleague from Al Jazeera Arabic Abdullah Al Sharmi who has been behind bars for 236 days.”

The journalists’ families have spoken out against their ordeal.

Baher Mohamed’s brother Assem said: “The accusations directed towards them are far from the truth. None of them are affiliated to any political party, movement, or the Muslim Brotherhood. They use the same equipment used by all other channels. If they have a problem with Al-Jazeera, the journalists have nothing to do with it.” Greste’s mother Lois said the family never believed he would be held for so long.

“We never believed at the start of this that it would reach this point. We thought it would be over, and sometimes I’ve thought perhaps even a day and then when two, three, four, and now it’s 100 days. And it’s really hard, it’s really hard. “Sometimes we have good days and we cope reasonably well, and other days it’s extremely difficult and one of us falls in a heap. “Fortunately one of us seems to maintain some equilibrium and the other one falls in a heap and it goes the other way at other times.”

Greste and colleagues Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed have constantly denied the charges, which Al Jazeera has labelled absurd.

To mark the 100 day of the detention, Al-Jazeera spearheaded an online campaign with Twitter photos of hundreds of people with their mouths taped shut and the hashtag #FreeAJStaff. According to Al-Jazeera there have been more than 800 million impressions of #FreeAJStaff on Twitter.

Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, Eric Goldstein, said: “Journalists should not have to risk years in an Egyptian prison for doing their job, the prosecution of these journalists for speaking with Muslim Brotherhood members, coming after the prosecution of protesters and academics, shows how fast the space for dissent in Egypt is evaporating.”

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