Egypt must end ‘vindictive’ detention of Al Jazeera journalists
Egypt’s continued detention of three Al Jazeera journalists charged with falsifying news and involvement with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement is “vindictive”, Amnesty International said ahead of the trio’s latest trial hearing.
Al Jazeera English staff Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed, along with five Egyptian students, stand accused of belonging to or assisting a banned terrorist organization -in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. Their trial resumes on 10 April.
“What the Egyptian authorities are doing is vindictive persecution of journalists for merely doing their jobs,” said Amnesty International’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Programme Deputy Director.
“So far, the Prosecution has failed to produce any convincing evidence and the journalists appear to be pawns in the hands of the authorities in their ongoing dispute with Qatar. The truth is that Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed are prisoners of conscience who must be released immediately and unconditionally.”
The men have been detained since 29 December 2013, when security forces arrested Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste at the Marriott Hotel in Cairo and Baher Mohamed at his home. The five Egyptian students were arrested two days later.
At their last hearing on 31 March, the judge ordered forensic experts to examine three of the students, after they alleged security forces had beaten them during their arrest.
The authorities are also denying Mohamed Fahmy adequate medical treatment for a shoulder injury sustained in the days before his arrest. The journalist has a fractured bone in his arm and his condition has worsened considerably due to lack of adequate medical care and the poor prison conditions he has endured, including over a month spent in the maximum-security Scorpion Prison after his arrest.
“This trial is nothing more than posturing by the authorities to gain public support,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
“This farce must end and the charges against the three men must be dropped.”
The trial has come amid a crackdown by the Egyptian authorities on the Al Jazeera network, as well as other media seen as supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted President Mohamed Morsi.
It has also played out against the backdrop of worsening relations between Egypt and Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based.
Security forces filmed the arrest of Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste and the video was later screened on Egyptian television, apparently in an attempt to smear the men.
The arrests sparked an international outcry from media organizations, as well as a statement by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on 31 January, which expressed concern over what it called “the systematic targeting of Al Jazeera staff” and the wider situation facing journalists and other media workers in Egypt.
In March 2014, Egypt’s president wrote to the families of Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste, stating he will spare no effort to quickly resolve the situation.
“Interim President Adly Mansour is presiding over a campaign of intimidation against journalists and activists, who are being targeted just for challenging the authorities’ narrative on their reporting. These arbitrary restrictions on expression violate Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
However, there is little sign of an end to the men’s ordeal. The judge hearing the case has denied the men bail.
In the nine months since Mohamed Morsi’s ousting, Al Jazeera has reported a number of incidents where security forces have arrested its staff or raided its offices.
The authorities are continuing to detain Al Jazeera Arabic journalist Abdullah al-Shami, arrested on 14 August 2013. He has been on hunger strike since mid-January 2014. The journalist has faced harassment by the security forces, both during his arrest for his work and in detention.
An administrative court banned Al Jazeera’s Egyptian channel, Mubasher Misr, on 3 September 2013, along with three other channels seen as supporting Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The authorities are also continuing a wider crackdown on dissent, targeting both the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters as well as other opposition activists critical of the authorities.
The trial, which is taking place before a criminal court convened in a police facility next to Cairo’s Tora Prison, began on 20 February.
The court is trying a total of 20 people in the case, 12 in absentia.
All face charges of broadcasting false news and of either belonging to or assisting persons belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Foreign nationals indicted in the case also face an additional charge of possessing “banned equipment” (including satellite phones), which authorities claim they used to falsify the news.
Nine of the defendants are Al Jazeera staff, the network has said, including British journalists Dominic Kane and Sue Turton and four unnamed Egyptian staff based in Qatar.
A Dutch journalist also indicted in the case left Egypt after she discovered she would face trial.
The five other detained defendants are Egyptian students Sohaib Saad Mohamed, Khaled Mohamed Abdel Raouf, Shady Abdelhamid, Ahmed Abdelazim and Anas Mohamed El Beltagy, according to the defence lawyers representing the men in court and a charge-sheet seen by Amnesty International.
The other defendants being tried in absentia are Egyptian nationals.