The sentencing of six journalists in Egypt yesterday to jail terms is a brazen and dangerous assault on press freedom with perilous implications for media, civil society and the general population.
A court in Cairo found Aljazeera journalists Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy guilty of spreading false news and sentenced them to seven years imprisonment. Another Aljazeera journalist Baher Mohamed was also found guilty of the same offence and of possessing ammunition – a spent bullet found at the scene of a protest – and sentenced to 10 years. 15 of the remaining 17 defendants were convicted – eleven of them in absentia – of being members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, and given jail terms ranging from seven to 10 years.
Most of the convicted journalists were prosecuted on the basis of their reporting of the violent dispersal by security forces of two protest sit-ins in Cairo last August which led to the deaths of thousands of mainly unarmed and innocent civilians. There is a unanimity of opinion in the media profession that the journalists have been convicted simply because their reporting failed to conform to the official line required by the military regime.
IHRC believes that the prosecution of journalists represents an intensification of the drive by Egypt’s armed forces to return the country to the military dictatorship following its recent short-lived flirtation with democracy. Five journalists have been killed and at least 125 have been arbitrarily arrested since 3 July 2013 when the democratically elected President, Mohammed Morsi, was ousted in a military coup.
The attack on press freedom is part of a wider assault on freedom of expression in Egypt which has seen hundreds of civilians and activists arrested and/or jailed for expressing dissenting views on the military’s seizure of power. It has created a climate of fear in the country in which people are deterred from saying what they think in the mass and social media.
Despite protestations by western governments a crackdown on this scale is only possible because of the open political and economic support they have given to Egypt’s armed forces to prosecute the military coup. Supporting dictators only emboldens them to carry out further human rights abuses in the knowledge that they are immune from international pressure and sanctions.
IHRC chair Massoud Shadjareh said: “This sentencing highlights the complete disintegration of due process in Egypt which was always at best tenuous in its workings. There is no pretence now under Sisi, of there ebbing anything akin to a judicial process. Whilst garnering much attention from the world’s media due to the defendants being journalists it is worth noting that this is the same system that has sentenced upwards of a thousand peaceful protestors to death. When will there be a systematic condemnation?”
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IHRC is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
Islamic Human Rights Commission
PO Box 598
Telephone (+44) 20 8904 4222