Formerly detained Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy slammed the network in a Monday press conference, accusing it of sponsoring terrorism and being a mouthpiece for the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood.
“The chairman of the network is a cousin of the Emir of Qatar. I believe the network is the mouthpiece of Qatari foreign policy,” Fahmy stated.
He announced that he was planning on suing the network for at least $100m in compensation for the trouble Al Jazeera caused him. The accusations include deceit, manipulation, and negligence of its own staff, recalling how Al Jazeera’s lawyer turned against them in court, and how he gained the reputation as a “traitor” in Egypt.
Fahmy and co-worker Peter Greste were initially sentenced to seven years in prison, with producer Baher Mohamed, who also worked at Al Jazeera, to 10 years. They await a verdict in their on-going re-trial at the Cairo Criminal Court.
Fahmy was assisted by Canadian law firm Caroline & Gislason, from which Gary Caroline and Joanna Gisalson were present. “This is about his claim against the party that hurt him,” Gisalson stated.
He accused Al Jazeera of deceit, manipulation and negligence of its own staff. He also claimed that he made many inquiries to the network regarding its legitimate status and the use of his media productions.
Fahmy repeatedly explained to the press that he had been assured by the bureau that he was not working for the locally banned Al Jazeera Mubashir Misr. The content he provided to the network, however, was used on the channel, despite Al Jazeera’s assurances.
Fahmy, who worked as the bureau chief of Al Jazeera English in Egypt in September 2013 before his arrest in December of the same year, said: “Just as we call on government to respect free press, the Al Jazeera Arabic platforms must also return to being a professional chronicler, as opposed to an advocate for the Muslim Brotherhood, designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and Egypt.”
Mohamed Hamouda, Fahmy’s Egyptian legal counsellor, said he had conducted intensive research on the network with legal associates in Doha. Hamouda pointed to the Riyadh Convention signed between Gulf Cooperation Council States (GCC), of which Qatar is a member.
The details of the Riyadh Convention, established in November 2013, were released to the press in April 2014, and include nine articles concerning Qatar’s foreign policies.
The pact, signed by Qatari, Kuwaiti and Saudi leaders, granted Qatar a two-month grace period to ban a number of judicially pursued figures who are hostile to GCC countries. It also stipulates a halt to sponsorship of some Muslim Brotherhood members wanted by Egypt, which Qatar has refused to extradite.
Additionally, it commanded Qatar to ban Brotherhood figures from obtaining Qatari nationality, giving public speeches, whether in mosques or in the media, and stopping all activities and individuals “inciting against Egypt’s stability”.
“Everybody hates Al-Jazeera”
Fahmy was not the only party acting against the network. Earlier this week, the US labelled the network’s bureau chief in Pakistan, Syrian national Ahmed Muaffaq Zaidan, an Al-Qaeda member.
Media reports have also published testimonies reported to be by Fahmy’s colleague and co-defendant, journalist Baher Mohamed. Mohamed allegedly accused Al Jazeera of asking him to fabricate reports and to interview certain people in a certain manner with pre-desired outcomes in terms of media messages.
During the press conference, Hamouda also shared his personal experience with the network. He claimed that during an interview with the network, he had criticised the Muslim Brotherhood leadership. “Months later, Al Jazeera used my statements as if I was speaking about another regime, and in favour of the Brotherhood,” he stated.
Moreover, Al Jazeera’s American channel has suffered turmoil in the past week, marked by resignations. One of the network’s senior journalists, Marcy McGinnis told The Wall Street Journal on 6 May that she resigned, dissatisfied with the management and how people were treated.
The same day, Al Jazeera replaced the channel’s CEO. A week previously, Matthew Luke, the network’s former director of media and archive management, filed a lawsuit against the network in New York, accusing an executive of being hostile to women and making anti-Israel remarks.
Journalism is not political activism
“Journalism is not political activism” was the title of the aggressive campaign against Al Jazeera launched by Fahmy, believing that the network has done damage to the profession’s integrity.
Denying claims that he was pushing the lawsuit to increase positive chances regarding his own trial before the Egyptian criminal court, Fahmy said he was actually expecting a prison sentence.
Fahmy said at the beginning of the conference: “Journalism is about digging for and reporting truth, to ask difficult questions to politicians and others who impact regular people.”
Despite making it clear that Al Jazeera had violated professional ethics, Fahmy still criticised the crackdown on journalists and limitations on freedom of speech by states under the excuse of the so-called War on Terror.
In response to Daily News Egypt questions regarding countering terrorism and the increase of pro-terrorism media content, Fahmy said governments and organisations should place new regulations to better protect journalists from prosecution. He added they should also monitor the type of material broadcasted on social media and TV.
“I think that journalists now have no neutral place to go. We are targeted by extremists and governments alike. We need to be protected and have a sort of new umbrella. A universal effort should be initiated,” Fahmy said.