A group of foreign correspondents and editors working in Cairo has joined the increasingly vocal battle to free the three Al Jazeera journalists who have been detained by Egyptian authorities for more than two weeks.
In a statement released Monday, over 40 journalists from more than 30 of the world’s most prestigious news outlets demanded the “immediate release” of Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed, “who have been arbitrarily imprisoned since 29 December”.
“The arrest of these journalists has cast a cloud over press and media freedom in Egypt,” read the foreign journalists’ statement. “We strongly believe that upholding the rights of journalists and permitting the free flow of information is vital to bringing about greater understanding and serves the best interests of all Egyptians and the world.”
Signatories to the Monday statement include Jeremy Bowen of the BBC, Marion Guénard of Le Monde, Max Rodenbeck of The Economist, Ayman Mohyeldin of NBC and Christiane Amanpour of CNN, among others.
Democracy Now! correspondent and signatory to the statement Sharif Kouddous said the conditions of the Al Jazeera journalists detention is alarming, and cause to act.
“Public pressure, at this point, was the best way to go forward, given that their detention was extended, and the conditions of Mohamed [Fahmy] and Baher [Mohamed] are extremely harsh,” said Kouddous.
“[Fahmy and Mohamed] are in their cells 24 hours a day with no sunlight and no bed. They’re only allowed out for interrogation.”
The Guardian correspondent Patrick Kingsley said that he was motivated to sign the statement to show unity and support for his fellow journalists.
“Speaking personally, I signed because I wanted to show solidarity with fellow professionals who were doing their job, and also to stand up for free speech—a value enshrined in Egypt’s draft constitution,” said Kingsley.
Egypt’s Journalists’ Syndicate also released a statement on Monday criticising the authorities’ attempt to suppress opinions critical of the government.
The arrest and detention of the Al Jazeera journalists has “worsened Egypt’s reputation abroad,” read the syndicate statement. “It is clear proof the government is using oppressive tactics against voices of dissent.”
The arrests of the trio from Al Jazeera, along with the larger crackdown on journalists and activists, has drawn widespread condemnation from rights groups both in Egypt and abroad, including the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, the Association for Free Thought and Expression, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Overseas Press Club of America.
The detention of Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed was extended for an additional 15 days on Thursday. They are facing various accusations, including “joining a terrorist organisation, publishing false news harming national security, terrorising people and harming the people’s general benefit, as well as possessing broadcast equipment without a licence.”
Al Jazeera has been no stranger to government sanctions since Mohamed Morsi’s 3 July ouster at the hands of the military, and has been subject to arrests of its members, confiscations of equipment and raids on its offices.
Egyptian Al Jazeera journalists Abdullah Al-Shami and Mohammad Badr were arrested covering protests last summer and remain in prison, while New Zealander correspondent Wayne Hay, British cameraman Adil Bradlow and Irish producer Russ Finn were detained for five days and then deported while working for the satellite network.