Egypt is damaging reputation by imprisoning journalists: HRW

Aya Nader
3 Min Read
Baher Mohamed (Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera News Channel)
Baher Mohamed (Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera News Channel)
Baher Mohamed
(Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera News Channel)

Egypt should drop all charges against the two Al Jazeera English journalists who were released conditionally, and free all unjustly jailed journalists, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement Friday.

The Cairo Criminal Court decided Thursday to release the Al Jazeera defendants pending their retrial, which has been postponed to 23 February, Egyptian state-media reported. Mohamed Fahmy is to pay EGP 270,000 in bail, while all the defendants are banned from travelling.

Prosecutors have presented no evidence of wrongdoing by the Al Jazeera journalists, and the journalists’ prosecution in general is a violation of basic rights protected by both Egypt’s constitution and international law, according to the statement.

The Al Jazeera journalists were arrested in December 2013 and accused of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood against Egypt. They were sentenced to seven to 10 years in prison last June.

“Releasing Fahmy and Mohamed was a positive move, if overdue, but they should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director.

At least nine, and possibly as many as 67 journalists, remain in prison in Egypt, according to human rights and media freedom groups, including some held for months without trial, the statement said.

“Egypt’s government needs to wake up to the damage it is doing to the country’s reputation by locking up journalists and other media workers simply for doing their job,” Whitson said. “Attacking the messenger is never good policy and it is one the Egyptian authorities should abandon.”

The arrest and unjust imprisonment of the Al Jazeera journalists rightly prompted international condemnation, but other journalists imprisoned in Egypt deserve the same attention, HRW said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has named nine other journalists detained on various charges. These include “publishing false news” or serving prison terms in connection with their reporting since the military took power on 3 July, 2013, and ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

According to the CPJ, seven other journalists have been killed in the line of their work, but the Egyptian authorities have not conducted independent investigations into any of their deaths. The CPJ ranked Egypt third among the most dangerous countries for journalists in 2013, and Reporters Without Borders named it one of the five worst countries for jailing journalists in 2014.

The Egyptian Observatory for Rights and Freedoms (EORF) said it had documented the arrests of 92 journalists since the military took power, 67 of whom were still in prison. The group said it had documented six military trials of journalists in the months following Morsi’s ouster.

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