US reiterates call to release Al-Jazeera journalists

Basil El-Dabh
5 Min Read
BBC employees call for the release of Al Jazeera employees on Monday, 100 days after Egyptian authorities detained them. (Handout from the BBC Media Centre)

“We urge the [Egyptian] government to drop these charges and release these journalists who have been detained,” United States Department of State Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a Monday press briefing. “We remain deeply concerned about the restrictions of freedom of expression in Egypt, including the targeting of Egyptian and foreign journalists for simply expressing their views,”

“Journalists, regardless of affiliation, should be protected and permitted to do their jobs free from intimidation or fear of retribution. Egypt’s constitution upholds these basic rights and freedoms, and Egypt’s interim government has a responsibility to ensure that they are protected,” she added.

Canadian-Egyptian Al-Jazeera English bureau chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Australian correspondent Peter Greste, and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed spent their 100th day in detention on Monday. The defence was denied bail for a second time at last week’s hearing for their trial, which is set to resume on Thursday.

Al-Jazeera Arabic reporter Abdullah Elshamy, who is not included in the trial and has not been subject to formal charges, has been in detention since 14 August for over 230 days.

Journalists and others working for news outlets around the world demonstrated on Tuesday in support of the detained journalists.

“Al-Jazeera hopes the attention of the world’s media will put pressure on the Egyptian authorities to hasten the release of Greste, Fahmy, Mohamed and Al-Jazeera Arab correspondent Abdullah Elshamy — who has been detained since August 2013 — by reminding them, in a united voice, that journalism is not a crime,” said AJE in a Monday press release.

Managing director of AJE Al Anstey called the charges lodged against the journalists “false and baseless” and decried the “outrageous amount of time” in which they were in detention.

The BBC’s Safety of Journalists Symposium also condemned the detention of journalists in Egypt on Monday. “A number of other journalists have also been held in Egypt for extended periods without adequate access to justice,” said the symposium’s statement. “We call for the release of all those individuals and the freeing of more than 200 other journalists around the world who are now held behind bars only because they were doing their jobs.”

Last week British Foreign Secretary William Hague expressed his “strong concern” over the Al-Jazeera trial, in which two British journalists are being charged in absentia.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) last week, there are currently 12 journalists behind bars, including four working for Al-Jazeera. There are currently three Rassd journalists in detention, two of which are standing trial before a military tribunal for allegedly leaking recordings of former Minister of Defence Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. There are also two journalists from the Freedom and Justice Party’s newspaper in jail, one from Islamist satellite channel Amgad TV, and three independent journalists.

Among the 20 defendants in the Al-Jazeera trial, 16 are Egyptian citizens and 4 are foreigners. Greste is the only foreign defendant detained in Egypt.

The other five defendants are students arrested on 31 December and 2 January. According to a press statement by the Muslim Brotherhood-aligned group Students Against the Coup: “The students have never once met [the journalists] before their trial, a fact that has been verified by the journalists and the students themselves in one of their court appearances.”

Dubbed the “Marriott Cell” by the prosecution, Fahmy and Greste were arrested from two rented suites at the Marriott Hotel in Zamalek, which they had been using as a base for operations, on 29 December. Egyptian producer Mohamed was arrested on the same night from his house in suburban Cairo.

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