"I want to send a message to the world; there is no need for defending honorable Egyptian journalists." That's what Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb said on World Press Freedom Day this year, speaking at Al-Ahram state newspaper. The same day, Al-Jazeera English Bureau Chief Mohamed Fahmy was roaring in an Egyptian court: "I want to defend myself, but I don't know how!" He was later handed a seven-year prison sentence, and several of his colleagues also received jail time, in a sham trial.
Al-Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fadel Fahmy has been languishing in an Egyptian prison since December. He is waiting for an appeal hearing on his seven-year sentence for "conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood," but it is the murder of American freelancer James Foley, rather than his own unjust sentence, that has made the Cairo bureau chief furious. Fahmy sees the solidarity in response to Foley's killing as an opportunity to gain global support for distressed journalists in Egypt.
Top African and U.S. leaders are meeting next week in Washington in a first-of-its-kind summit focused on African development. But critics argue the summit is flawed in design, overlooking human rights such as freedom of expression and barring civil society actors from bilateral discussions.
This morning a judge in Egypt convicted journalists Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood and sentenced them to between seven and 10 years in prison. All three were working for Al-Jazeera when they were arrested six months ago, but have a wide range of professional experience, including stints with CNN, The New York Times, and the BBC. Three other journalists--Al-Jazeera English presenter Sue Turton, Al-Jazeera reporter Dominic Kane, and a correspondent for Dutch Parool newspaper, Rena Netjes--were sentenced to 10 years in absentia.
Egypt's newly elected leader, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, will have to face many challenges as president, including the real crisis that confronts freedom of the press in the country. Things were never good for the press in Egypt, but they have worsened significantly since former President Mohamed Morsi was ousted last summer. As CPJ wrote in a letter before the election to el-Sisi and his now defeated opponent, Hamdeen Sabahi, at least six journalists have been killed since Morsi's ouster and 16 journalists are currently imprisoned. Dozens more have been detained and released, creating a climate of fear and repression that has dampened the ability of journalists to cover political developments and the most recent election.
Today, on Al-Jazeera's Global Day of Action, the Qatari-based broadcaster is urging Egyptian authorities to release its journalists who have been held behind bars for months. CPJ calls on the Egyptian government to release all of the journalists jailed in the country. At least nine journalists are currently imprisoned in Egypt, four of whom work for Al-Jazeera, according to CPJ research.
Today, the Committee to Protect Journalists joined other leading international media freedom and human rights organizations, including Article 19, Index on Censorship, and Reporters Without Borders, in calling on the European Union and United States to demand Egyptian authorities drop charges against Al-Jazeera journalists and release those under arrest.
In recent years, Arab journalists have been taking great risks to report important stories in a region where war and civil unrest remain an ever-present threat. Many are operating without proper equipment or safety training in how to recognize and mitigate the various risks they face.
Sign up for emailed alerts and newsletters to track global developments in press freedom. Be notified whenever journalists are attacked, imprisoned, killed, kidnapped, threatened, censored, or harassed. Or get a monthly newsletter to keep up with CPJ’s efforts to defend journalists around the globe.