Egypt needs justice not politics in investigating deaths

Yesterday, the Committee to Protect Journalists launched a campaign calling for serious investigations into the deaths of eight journalists in Egypt since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011. CPJ hopes that the current military-led government will lead impartial and serious inquiries into the events surrounding the killings no matter who was in power at the time.

More than 10 prominent Egyptian journalists, press freedom advocates and civil society leaders supported and signed onto the campaign before it was actually launched.  At least 578 more pledged to support it overnight. The immediate show of support came from across the political and media spectrum, a hopeful sign for the future of the Egyptian media. Yet we must remain aware of the potential for political manipulation of the campaign in Egypt, especially during the current media divide between supporters of the military and former President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Out of the eight journalists, only the killing of Al-Hosseiny Abou Deif outside the presidential palace last December has been categorized by CPJ as a murder (i.e., the targeted killing of a journalist, whether premeditated or spontaneous, in direct relation to the journalist’s work). CPJ’s Egypt report last month detailed the reasoning behind this judgment. But as Morsi stands trial on charges of committing and inciting violence outside his palace, we hope he and others in Egypt will enjoy a free and fair trial under the law.  

Of the eight journalists, two were killed under president Morsi’s one-year tenure while five were killed in the last two months. The eighth journalist was killed under the military government that succeeded Hosni Mubarak.

The dead include journalists who worked for the government, the opposition, and, for the first time in Egypt, international news organizations. This puts considerable pressure on the current military-led government to ensure the Egyptian judiciary conducts independent and impartial reviews of each of these cases.

Furthermore, while this campaign focuses on killings, we should not neglect the great numbers of other attacks against the press in Egypt. During Morsi’s one year tenure, CPJ documented as many as 78 assaults of journalists, most of which were led by Morsi supporters. Over the past two months, however, CPJ documented at least 67 cases of temporary detentions, assaults, and confiscations against journalists in addition to nine raids on news organizations and the continued detention of at least 7 journalists.

Finally, as Egypt’s government prepares to amend the constitution, we reiterate the need to adopt comprehensive reforms to guarantee press freedom. The panel reviewing the constitution should introduce clear and unequivocal guarantees of freedom of speech, an unrestricted media and the right of all citizens to information. The current government should abolish prison sentences for all media-related violations and remove all insult laws from the penal code. 

Only by taking these steps, can the current transitional government fulfill its promise to “correct the path of the revolution” and be seen as credible in seeking political reconciliation. In doing so, it may succeed where predecessors failed: breaking the cycle of oppressing dissidents that leads to revolt and results in more oppression.