On 23 June, Egypt jailed Al Jazeera English staff Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed for simply doing their job as journalists.
Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste were dealt seven years in prison for ‘broadcasting false news’ and apparently promoting the banned Muslim Brotherhood group. Baher Mohamed faces ten years behind bars; his sentence is longer as he has an additional charge of possessing a bullet casing, which he says he picked up as a souvenir.
All three were arrested on 29 December. Security forces filmed the arrest of Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste at the Marriot Hotel in Cairo. The video was later screened on Egyptian television, apparently in an attempt to smear the men.
The arrests have sparked an international outcry from media organisations, as well as a statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 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.
‘You can’t have a free society without a free press. In Egypt today you know that you can’t provide balance as long as you can end up in prison like us.’
Poor conditions of detention
Both Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy have written from prison to describe poor conditions of detention.
A few days before his arrest, Mohamed Fahmy broke his shoulder. The authorities denied him adequate medical treatment and it was only after months of appeals from his family that Mohamed was finally transferred to a public hospital for scans. He could be permanently disabled, thanks to the delayed medical treatment and the impact of gruelling prison conditions, including a month’s stint in maximum-security Scorpion Prison.
Media students sentenced in sham trial
During the same trial, four media students were each sentenced to seven years in prison, although the basis of their conviction was unclear. Sohaib Saad Mohamed, Khaled Mohamed Abdel Raouf, Ahmed Abdelazim and Khaled Abdel Rahman Mahmoud appear to have been convicted on charges of terrorism, in relation to promoting and assisting the Muslim Brotherhood.
They were all arrested on 31 December. At their hearing in March, three of them told the judge that the security forces had beaten them during their arrest. The court had previously asked that their allegations be investigated, and the men examined by forensic doctors for signs of beatings, but it is unclear whether this happened.
We are asking for the immediate release of these four men, unless Egypt can guarantee that they will be retried fairly.
More journalists sentenced in absentia
The court in Tora, Egypt, tried a total of twenty people in this case – 11 of them in absentia.
Six of the absent group also work for Al Jazeera: British journalists Dominic Kane and Sue Turton and four Egyptian staff based in Qatar were found guilty in absentia of broadcasting false news and either belonging to or assisting the Muslim Brotherhood. The foreign nationals indicted also face an additional charge of possessing ‘banned equipment’, apparently in order to falsify the news.
Only two of the group of twenty were acquitted; media students Anas Mohamed El Beltagy and Shady Abdelhamid had their convictions quashed on 23 June.
Why is the Muslim Brotherhood banned?
The Egyptian government banned political group the Muslim Brotherhood in September 2013. In December they designated it a terrorist organisation.
The Muslim Brotherhood is the political party of Egypt’s former President Mohamed Morsi. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood came into power following the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Morsi became Egypt’s first democratically elected President in 2012. Mass protests and civil unrest against the ruling elect led to Morsi being overthrown by his army, who assumed martial law in July 2013.
The year that has followed Morsi’s expulsion from power has seen a crackdown on all affiliation with and broadcast of the Muslim Brotherhood. This has mistakenly been applied to journalists simply reporting events.
Al Jazeera targeted
Security forces have pressured Al Jazeera and other broadcasters who they believe to support Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Al Jazeera reported a number of incidents where Egyptian security forces arrested its staff or raided its offices last year. The network’s Egyptian channel, Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr, was banned on 3 September 2013, along with three other channels widely seen as supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Al Jazeera Arabic journalist Abdullah al-Shami is being detained in a separated trial, again on charges of promoting the Muslim Brotherhood. Arrested in August 2013, Abdullah has been on hunger strike since mid-January 2014.
Source: Amnesty International