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World’s press outraged by Egypt jail sentences for Al Jazeera journalists

The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum today strongly condemned the guilty verdicts against three Al Jazeera journalists accused of spreading false news and of aiding a banned terrorist organisation.

The organisations that together represent over 18,000 titles and 15,000 online news sites worldwide, called on recently elected Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to take “all necessary steps to immediately revoke the sentences.”

Australian journalist Peter Greste and Cairo Bureau Chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, who has dual Egyptian/Canadian nationality, were both sentenced to seven years in prison. Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed was sentenced to ten years, while three of their Al Jazeera English colleagues were also sentenced in absentia. The three men were arrested from their Cairo hotel rooms on 29 December 2013 and accused of spreading false news as well as aiding a banned terrorist organisation.

“We are disappointed and outraged at this judgement. It is an abhorrent abuse of press freedom principles," said WAN-IFRA Secretary General, Larry Kilman. "These journalists have been jailed for simply doing their jobs and journalism is not a crime.”

According to news reports, today’s verdicts came despite evidence that bore little relation to the serious charges that were levied against the journalists.

In a letter to President Sisi, WAN-IFRA reminded the Egyptian leader that prosecuting journalists for carrying out their profession “constituted a clear breach of the right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the Egyptian constitution and numerous international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

For democratic governments to equate journalism with terrorist activities when challenged on transparency, accountability or national security issues is highly irresponsible and sends a deplorable message that human rights are not protected.

“We believe this verdict will severely damage the public perception of the role of the media and the status of professional journalists,” the WAN-IFRA letter continued. “The message it sends to the Egyptian public, and to the wider international community, is that Egypt is closed off to debate and criticism and that freedom of expression has no place in the new society.”

WAN-IFRA remains deeply concerned by a rising global trend that has seen growing numbers of journalists imprisoned for supposed links to terrorist activities. Over half of the 211 journalists recorded in the 2013 Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) prison census were jailed on anti-state charges. One of those behind bars is WAN-IFRA’s 2014 Golden Pen of Freedom laureate, Eskinder Nega, an Ethiopian journalist sentenced to 18 years in prison for supposed terrorism-related activities.

Date posted: June 24, 2014 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 5