#freeAJstaff: World Reacts to the Conviction of Al Jazeera Journalists in Egypt

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By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Reporter, Managing Editor

Cairo, Egypt – Three journalists working for Al Jazeera English were convicted of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood in an Egyptian court on Monday. The journalists, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were arrested and had been imprisoned Cairo since December. They had been accused of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhoods, spreading false news and endangering Egypt’s national security. Charges which the three men have denied. Peter Greste, a former employee of the BBC, and Mohamed Fahmy, a former employee of CNN, were both sentenced to seven years in Prison. Baher Mohamed, a native Egyptian, was sentenced to ten years in prison.

The recent jail sentences given to Al Jazeera reporters has sparked international outrage prompting demonstrations around the world and calls for the Egyptian state to respect free speech rights in Egypt (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

Since the 2013 coup the Egyptian military has cracked down on free speech in Egypt; not only on public decent from pro-Morsi demonstrators but on transparent reporting as well. The France based press freedom advocacy group Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters without Borders) ranks Egypt 159th out of 180 countries in its 2014 Press Freedom Index. Press freedom as well as the safety of journalists has severely declined in Egypt since last year. According to Reporters without Borders, A total of six journalists have been killed in Egypt by live rounds since the military coup that removed former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi from power on 3 July 2013. Most of these reporters were killed while covering pro-Morsi demonstrations. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), more than 65 journalists were arrested and detained in Egypt for varying periods of time between 3 July 2013 and 30 April 2014. The conviction of journalists reporting for Al Jazeera, one of the world’s largest and most respected news outlets, has raised awareness to the military government’s crackdown on free speech.

The verdict has sparked outrage from activists, news outlets and press freedom groups around the world, often showing their support for the jailed journalists in Egypt through the Hashtag #freeAJstaff which has gone viral since the reporters were detained last year.

CNN was among the major media outlets to have spoken out against the verdict and in support of press freedom around the globe. “All at CNN are dismayed at today’s unjust sentencing of the Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt,” the network said in a statement. “Freedom of the media must be protected, and journalists must be free to carry out their legitimate work without fear of imprisonment. We stand alongside the journalistic community in calling for the immediate release of these journalists.

United States Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken out agast the verdict; saying, “today’s conviction and chilling, draconian sentences by the Cairo Criminal Court of three Al Jazeera journalists and fifteen others in a trial that lacked many fundamental norms of due process, is a deeply disturbing set-back to Egypt’s transition. Injustices like these simply cannot stand if Egypt is to move forward in the way that President al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Shoukry told me just yesterday that they aspire to see their country advance.”

As I shared with President al-Sisi during my visit to Cairo, the long term success of Egypt and its people depends on the protection of universal human rights, and a real commitment to embracing the aspirations of the Egyptians for a responsive government. Egyptian society is stronger and sustainable when all of its citizens have a say and a stake in its success. Today’s verdicts fly in the face of the essential role of civil society, a free press, and the real rule of law. I spoke with Foreign Minister Shoukry again today to make very clear our deep concerns about these convictions and sentences.

Kerry, who spoke with newly elected Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi earlier this week said that he and Sisi, who led the coup against the Morsi government, said “frankly discussed these issues and his objectives at the start of his term as President. I call on him to make clear, publicly, his government’s intention to observe Egypt’s commitment to the essential role of civil society, a free press, and the rule of law.”

However the Egyptian President has said that he will not interfere with judicial verdicts. In a televised speech at a military graduation ceremony on Tuesday Sisi said; “we will not interfere in judicial rulings,” he said “we must respect judicial rulings and not criticize them even if others do not understand this.”

For more information please see:

Al Jazeera – Outrage as Egypt Jails Al Jazeera Staff – 24 June 2014

Al Jazeera – Sisi ‘Will not Interfere’ in Court Verdicts – 24 June 2014

CNN – Jailed Al Jazeera Journalists Convicted in Egypt – 24 June 2014

U.S. Department of State Press Release – Conviction of Al Jazeera Journalists – 23 June 2014

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Kathryn Maureen Ryan

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