The three journalists – Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, all considered by Amnesty International to be prisoners of conscience – were sentenced to seven years in jail. Baher Mohamed received a further three years on a separate charge of possessing a bullet shell. They have been detained since 29 December 2013.
Their crime? Reporting the news and challenging the “official version” presented by the authorities. Amnesty International believes they are prisoners of conscience detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.
The three men were detained on December 29, 2013 and later charged with falsifying news and belonging to or assisting a banned terrorist organization. They face up to life imprisonment if convicted. Their trial is grossly unfair. Amnesty International fears that the charges may be an attempt to punish the journalists for Al Jazeera’s editorial line. The channel has been accused of being biased towards the now banned Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Journalists at risk in Egypt
Journalism has never been an easy profession in Egypt. During the 17 months of military rule following the 2011 resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, journalists were targeted, shot and detained for holding cameras to document human rights violations by the security forces.
During the presidency of Mohamed Morsi, media professionals were again targeted by both the security
forces and the judiciary for criticising the government and its supporters. Journalists, bloggers and even comedians faced politically motivated or trumped-up criminal charges like “defaming religion” or “insulting the president”.
Since Mohamed Morsi’s ousting in July 2013, media workers operate in an increasing climate of fear. Journalists and bloggers continue to be arrested for investigating and reporting on human rights violations. In some cases security forces have apparently deliberately targeted media workers while dispersing protests. A number of media outlets perceived as sympathetic to the former president and the Muslim Brotherhood have been ordered closed.