New York, April 11, 2015–A court in Cairo sentenced three Egyptian journalists to life in prison today, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the convictions and sentences and calls on authorities to stop persecuting the news media.
Abdullah al-Fakharany, executive director of the Rassd news website; Samhi Mustafa, co-founder of the website; and Mohamed al-Adly, a presenter for Amgad TV, were arrested on August 25, 2013, two weeks after the violent dispersal of the sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adawiya in Cairo, where Egyptians had gathered to protest the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, according to news reports. Hundreds of people were killed during the dispersal. In December 2013, the Muslim Brotherhood, which Morsi represented, was declared a terrorist organization, news reports said.
The three journalists were originally charged with “disturbing the peace,” but in February 2014 General Prosecutor Hisham Barakat substituted the charges with “spreading chaos” and “spreading false information” in the coverage of the dispersal, according to news reports. The journalists were also charged with “forming an operations room to direct the Muslim Brotherhood to defy the government.” A statement released by the prosecutor’s office named Rassd and Amgad TV, among others, as media outlets that worked with the Muslim Brotherhood to undermine Egypt’s military and its government.
The journalists have been on trial since April 2014 along with 48 other defendants, including prominent leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to news reports. Fourteen defendants, including Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, were sentenced to death on March 16, 2015. The court today confirmed those sentences after consulting with the Grand Mufti, Egypt’s highest Islamic legal official. The remaining 37 defendants, including the three journalists, were sentenced to life in prison, according to news reports. All of the sentences can be appealed.
“An already bad situation for the Egyptian news media significantly deteriorates with the sentencing to life in prison of these three journalists,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour. “We call on the government of Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi to live up to its claims of democratic reform by allowing journalists to do their work without fear of being locked away in prison.”
The trial was presided over by Judge Nagy Shehata, who has been criticized by local and international human rights groups for handing out mass death sentences and harsh prison terms. In June 2014, Shehata sentenced three Al-Jazeera journalists to harsh prison terms on charges of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood, according to news reports. The Al-Jazeera journalists have been released on bail while their case is being retried, news reports said.
Egypt ranked as the sixth worst jailer of journalists worldwide when CPJ conducted its most recent prison census on December 1, 2014.
- For more data and analysis on Egypt, visit CPJ’s Egypt page here.