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Egyptian authorities to put 20 journalists on trial

UPDATE: Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste, and Bahar Mohammed of Al Jazeera English are imprisoned in Cairo. Their Al Jazeera colleagues, Abdullah Al Shami and Mohammed Badr are also in Egyptian custody. (CJFE, 6 February 2014)

Reporters Without Borders is stunned and appalled by today's announcement by the Egyptian prosecutor's office that 20 Al-Jazeera journalists are to be prosecuted on charges of “undermining national unity and social peace” and “broadcasting false information.”

RWB condemns this decision, calls for the withdrawal of all these charges and demands the immediate and unconditional release of all the journalists currently detained.

The harassment of the Qatar-based TV network and its journalists must stop. It is just deepening the divisions in Egypt's increasingly polarized society and is bringing further discredit on the Egyptian authorities in the eyes of international public opinion.

Sixteen of the 20 indicted Al-Jazeera journalists are Egyptians. The statement by the prosecutor's office said they are accused of membership of a “terrorist organization” – an allusion to deposed President Mohammed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood party – and “undermining national unity and social peace.”

The four foreigners – two Britons, an Australian and a Dutch citizen – are accused of “collaborating with [these] Egyptians by providing them with money, equipment and information (…) and broadcasting unreal scenes to give the impression to the outside world that there is a civil war.”

Only eight of the 20 are currently detained. The authorities are looking for the others. The statement by the prosecutor's office did not name the imprisoned journalists.

They include reporter Peter Greste (who is Australian), Cairo bureau chief Mohamed Adel Fahmy (who has Canadian and Egyptian dual citizenship), Baher Mohamed (arrested in a Cairo hotel on 29 December), Abdallah Al-Shami (arrested on 14 August) and Mohamed Badr (arrested on 15 July).

Persecution timeline

Ever since President Morsi's removal on 3 July 2013, the authorities have hounded news media and journalists suspected of direct or indirect links with Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned on 23 September and was declared a terrorist organization on 25 December.

On 3 July, the authorities closed four local TV stations: Misr 25, which was operated by the Freedom and Justice Party (the Muslim Brotherhood), and Al-Hafiz, Al-Nas and Rahma, three stations that supported Morsi. In reaction to Misr 25's closure, a new Egyptian station, Ahrar 25, was launched in mid-July.

On 5 July, Nilesat, the Egyptian telecommunications satellite operator, blocked three pan-Arab TV stations: Al-Quds and Al-Aqsa (Palestinian stations affiliated to Hamas), and Al-Yarmouk, a Muslim Brotherhood station based in Jordan.

In 20 August, police raided the Cairo bureau of the Ihlas News Agency (IHA), a privately-owned Turkish news agency, and arrested its bureau chief, Tahir Osman Hamde. He was held arbitrarily until 4 September. As relations between Turkey and Egypt declined, other Turkish media were also targeted by the Egyptian authorities.

On 28 August, the ministry of investment, information and communications technology and media declared Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr (a Cairo-based Al-Jazeera affiliate) to be illegal and forbidden to operate in Egypt.

On 3 September, the administrative court of the State Council announced the closure of four TV stations (or their local bureaux) – Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr, Ahrar 25, Al-Quds and Al-Yarmouk –for “threatening social peace,” “disseminating rumours and false, misleading reports” and inciting hatred and public disorder. This announcement confirmed measures already adopted arbitrarily.

On 10 September, the police raided the Cairo offices of Turkey's state-owned Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), seizing production equipment, computers and recordings. Under pressure from the authorities, TRT decided to temporarily suspend its operations in Egypt. Metin Turan, a TRT journalist arrested on 16 August, was released after 100 days in jail.

On 12 November, the head of the reportedly pro-Muslim Brotherhood Rassd news network was arrested at his home. The reason for his arrest and his place of detention are still unknown.

On 28 November, Hani Salah Eddine, the managing editor of the closed Misr 25 TV channel, was stopped at Cairo airport as he was about to board a flight to London. After responding to a summons to appear before the prosecutor-general, he was arrested on 1 December in an investigation into the “dissemination of mendacious information” and “inciting violence.”

What other IFEX members are saying
  • Egypt to try Al-Jazeera journalists on terror charges

    "This attempt to criminalize legitimate journalistic work is what distorts Egypt's image abroad. The government's lack of tolerance shows that it is unable to handle criticism," said Sherif Mansour, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa Coordinator. "We call on authorities to drop these outrageous charges and release all journalists from jail immediately."

  • IFJ Demands Release of Al Jazeera Journalists Referred to Trial in Egypt

    This is the first instance of terror-related charges against journalists and foreigners since the government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation in December. Al-Jazeera has denied the charges, demanding its reporters be freed.

  • Egypt charges 20 journalists in disregard of its commitments

    "The charges against these journalists are absurd and IPI condemns their treatment in the strongest possible terms," said IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie, who returned from Cairo on Tuesday. "This news comes as an unwelcome surprise after the commitment to press freedom that Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy expressed to IPI during our meeting."

  • There is only one side to the story in Egypt: The government line

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