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Egypt's Jail terms for journalists: global leaders must act to uphold Freedom of Press

 

Posted on 24 Jun 2014

Last updated 28 Jun 2014 00:00:00 +0530

  Freedom of Press, Egypt, Jail terms for Journalists
The issue is not limited to reversal of the sentences pronounced by the Cairo court or facilitating release of the journalists jailed in Egypt, but ensuring an atmosphere for the journalists do their duties in countries of political hostility and instability, places of conflict and war. It needs strong and immediate intervention by the international communities including the UN because increasing threat to media and unhealthy censorship are the indications of lesser-democracy or no democracy.

Basudev Mahapatra

 

The Egyptian court’s recent judgment that sentenced jail terms for three Al-Jazeera journalists has drawn worldwide reactions and demanded immediate intervention by the world leadership to ensure safety of journalists working in places of political hostility and war.

Three journalists, the Australian journalist and former BBC Correspondent Peter Greste, the ex-CNN journalist Mohamed Fahmy, and local producer Baher Mohamed, working for Qatar based Al-Jazeera English were sentenced for seven, seven and 10 year jail terms respectively.

The judgment also pronounced 10-year sentences to the British journalists Sue Turton and Dominic Kane and the Dutch journalist Rena Netjes, who were not in Egypt but were tried in absentia. Four students and activists indicted in the case were sentenced to seven years.

The verdict was unjustifiable as there was a complete lack of evidence to substantiate the cases against Al-Jazeera journalists, said media reports.

As per The Guardian, three videos provided as evidence were a package about horse welfare in Egypt by Sky News Arabia, believed to have been taken from equipment owned by Baher Mohamed, followed by footage from a press conference in Nairobi about last year's Westgate mall attacks, and then a BBC Panorama documentary about Somalian bandits made by Peter Greste in 2011. And, all of them were filmed by networks other than Al-Jazeera.

"On the basis of the evidence that we've seen, we can't understand the verdict," said Ralph King, the Australian ambassador in Cairo, to the guardian adding, "We will make our feelings clear to the Egyptian government and we will continue to provide all possible consular assistance."

Al-Jazeera said in a press release that “There is no justification whatsoever in the detention of our three colleagues for even one minute.  To have detained them for 177 Days is an outrage.  To have sentenced them defies logic, sense, and any semblance of justice.”

“Egypt's judiciary has dealt a shocking blow to the principle of free speech after three journalists for Al-Jazeera English were sentenced to between seven and 10 years in jail on charges of aiding terrorists and endangering national security,” said Patrick Kingsley of The Guardian who reported the incident from Cairo.

Julie Bishop, Australia's foreign minister, said, "The Australian government simply cannot understand it based on the evidence that was presented in the case."

"We are deeply concerned that this verdict is part of a broader attempt to muzzle the press freedom that upholds democracies around the world,” Bishop added.

The judgment and sentences it passed drew criticism from almost all corners. A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “completely appalled” by the verdicts.

Organisations and forums working to uphold the professional rights and freedom of the journalists have condemned the sentences.

"We are disappointed and outraged at this judgement. It is an abhorrent abuse of press freedom principles," said Larry Kilman, Secretary General of the World Association of Newspapers and News publishers, adding that "These journalists have been jailed for simply doing their jobs and journalism is not a crime."

"These convictions are shocking, and an extremely disturbing sign for the future of the Egyptian press," said Sherif Mansour, CPJ'S Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator. "Authorities must release the journalists immediately and overturn the verdict on appeal."

While it remains unclear what recourse the defendants are going to take after being served with the sentences, the United Nations Human Rights wing appealed that Egypt should free three Al Jazeera journalists who were jailed on Monday for seven years and stop the 'obscene' practice of holding mass trials of government opponents that end in death penalties.

"Egypt's reputation, and especially the reputation of its judiciary as an independent institution, are at stake," UN human rights Chief Navi Pillay said in a statement adding, "There is a risk that miscarriage of justice is becoming the norm in Egypt."

“There is only one sensible outcome now.  For the verdict to be overturned, and justice to be recognised by Egypt.  We must keep our voice loud to call for an end to their detention. Alongside us is a worldwide solidarity, a global call for their release, and a demand for basic freedoms to be respected.  The authorities in Egypt need to take responsibility for their actions, and be held to account by the global community,” the release from Al-Jazeera noted.

“We will continue with resolve and determination until Baher, Peter, and Mohamed are free and safely reunited with their families,” it said.

However, the issue is not limited to reversal of the sentences pronounced by the Cairo court or facilitating release of the journalists jailed in Egypt, but ensuring an atmosphere for the journalists do their duties in countries of political hostility and instability, places of conflict and war. It needs strong and immediate intervention by the international communities including the UN because increasing threat to media and unhealthy censorship are the indications of lesser-democracy or no democracy.

Media and its members have been threatened in the Middle East since the days of Arab Spring and the situation is not changing to create a proper atmosphere for journalists even after the change in political structure and system in several countries. The threat is rather becoming stronger and wider.

As per a review by World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), Journalists in Venezuela, Brazil and Ukraine have been killed or wounded while reporting on street protests and clashes between security forces and protesters.

The ruling class poses bigger threat to media in Asian countries like Thailand, since the coup organised by Thai military, Pakistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. As per the world Press Freedom Index 2014, threat to media is increasing in China and the India as well.

The case of Egypt serves another but a serious alert to the world leadership to intervene and ensure a conducive atmosphere for media to operate and work so that democracy can be protected.

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