One journalist released, Al-Jazeera trial begins in Egypt

New York, March 4, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release from jail of one reporter in Egypt and calls on authorities to release all other journalists held behind bars. While the release of a second journalist is pending, a trial begins on Wednesday for three imprisoned journalists affiliated with the Qatari-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera, according to news reports.

“By halting the persecution of critical journalists, Egypt can still improve its deteriorating record of press freedom,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa coordinator. “Egyptian authorities should drop all charges against the journalists and immediately release all those in jail in the country.”

On Monday, Karim el-Behiri, reporter for the independent daily El-Badil, was released from jail and ordered to pay bail of 1,000 Egyptian pounds (about US$143), according to his lawyer, Karim Abdelrady. El-Behiri was arrested on January 25 while covering opposition protests in Cairo’s 6th October neighborhood, according to news reports. He was held in pre-trial detention on accusations of throwing Molotov cocktails at the police, according to news reports. No official charges have been filed. The lawyer said no court date had yet been set.

A Cairo prosecutor on Monday ordered the release without bail of Firas al-Shamsan, a Yemeni freelance journalist who has been in custody since February 2, according to his lawyer, Ahmed Abd el-Naby. The lawyer told CPJ today that al-Shamsan had not yet been released and was being held in custody by Egyptian National Security, a police agency that monitors political activities. Al-Shamsan will be held until late Tuesday while authorities confirm his residency documents are valid. If not, the blogger could be deported back to Yemen, according to the lawyer.

On February 2, al-Shamsan was interviewing attendees of the Cairo International Book Fair for the regional arts and culture website Fantime, when an unidentified woman objected to an interviewee’s comment and reported him to police, news reports said. The journalist was arrested and charged with “possessing recordings that included false news and rumors that would disturb public peace and security,” according to regional human rights group the Arab Network for Human Rights Information. No subsequent court date has been set, the lawyer said.

Egyptian authorities often use legal harassment and arbitrary detention as means to silence critical journalists. More than 60 journalists have been detained in Egypt since July, according to CPJ research. Most have been freed.

Three Al-Jazeera journalists–Cairo Bureau Chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, correspondent Peter Greste, and producer Baher Mohamed–are due to appear in Cairo’s criminal court on Wednesday, according to news reports. They have been charged with “distorting the country’s image abroad” and “fabricating news to aid the Muslim Brotherhood,” which the government has declared a terrorist organization, according to news reports.

At least four other journalists remain in jail in Egypt. Mahmoud Abdel Nabi, a correspondent for the critical news website Rassd, was arrested on July 3 while covering clashes in Alexandria, according to reports. Mohamed Aamer, a reporter for the Muslim Brotherhood’s daily Freedom and Justice newspaper, was arrested on November 26 and has been held in pre-trial detention on accusations of publishing false information. Al-Jazeera correspondent Abdullah al-Shami and Mahmoud Abou Zeid, a freelance photographer, were arrested while covering clashes on August 14 in Cairo, according to reports.