Newsmen in prison

Published January 3, 2015
Convicted journalists: Peter Greste (left), Mohamed Fadel Fahmy (right) and Baher Mohamed. — AFP/File
Convicted journalists: Peter Greste (left), Mohamed Fadel Fahmy (right) and Baher Mohamed. — AFP/File

THE decision by Egypt’s top court to order a retrial of three convicted Al Jazeera journalists deserves to be welcomed, leading to hopes that they might eventually be released.

The charges on which they were convicted and sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment were difficult to justify and appear to have been motivated by political considerations.

Relations between Egypt and Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based, deteriorated after Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government, arrested Mohammad Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, and launched a crackdown that killed a large number of Brotherhood supporters.

Also read:Egypt court orders retrial of jailed Al Jazeera reporters

The three journalists — Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed — were doing their professional duty and were in no way involved in what they were charged with ie “spreading false information”.

Egypt is now a dictatorship worse than Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime. Mr Mubarak replaced Anwar Sadat when he was assassinated. But Mr Sisi overthrew a democratically elected government and then had himself elected president through a bogus election.

All dissent has been crushed, and the Egyptian press is not free. When the Egyptian government can arrest and throw foreign journalists into prison, we can only imagine the conditions in which Egyptian newspersons operate.

The three Al Jazeera correspondents might have talked to opposition leaders, including Brotherhood sympathisers, and reported for their channel. But that doesn’t constitute a crime. That the judicial process was flawed became obvious when the Court of Cassation ordered a retrial.

The journalists’ family members were disappointed by Thursday’s verdict and thought the three newsmen should have been released. As an Al Jazeera official put it, “Their arrest was political, the sentencing was political and their being kept in prison is, for us, political”.

Their conviction has been denounced by journalists’ unions and rights bodies, including Amnesty International, which called the trial a “complete farce”.

A family member’s hope that relations between Egypt and Qatar will improve so that the journalists are released is not the issue; the issue is media freedom.

Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2015

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