CPJ Insider: March edition
CPJ’s Sherif Mansour and his family harassed by Egyptian authorities
Egyptian police first came for Sherif’s father when he was seven. They came again—this time for him—when he was 17. Today, Mansour, who serves as CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, lives in the United States, but that has not stopped the Egyptian government from trying to harass him into silence. In August, security agents raided three houses belonging to his family in Cairo and arrested 10 relatives.
Today, one of Mansour’s relatives remains behind bars. Reda Abdelrahman has been in extended detention since August, and his detention was extended again on March 1 for 45 days. For the first 44 days, neither Reda’s family nor his lawyers were able to contact him.
Egyptian authorities say that Sherif and his father—a scholar, who also lives in the United States—are members of the terrorist organization, allegations that the two call absurd. Egypt is not only arbitrarily detaining its critics—many of whom are human rights defenders and political activists—but it is targeting their families abroad with sweeping and unsubstantiated terrorism charges, according to national and international nonprofit organizations.
“The government of Abdelfattah el-Sisi projects fear—not confidence—when it engages in such blatant tactics of censorship,” Sherif said.
In 2013, an Egyptian court sentenced Sherif and 42 others to two years in prison based on work he did in 2011, when he was with the organization Freedom House, prior to joining CPJ. At the time, Egyptian authorities raided the offices of 17 NGOs, including Freedom House, and accused them of operating illegally and receiving foreign funding without approval.
CPJ continues to condemn Egypt’s harassment of Mansour and his family and, in late February, issued a statement saying “Judicial hostage-taking of critics abroad, and threats to overseas family members of those jailed at home, are the hallmark of a dictatorship.” We also called on Egyptian authorities to drop the allegations against Mansour and his family.
Coup in Myanmar leads to press crackdown
Journalists in Myanmar knew what was going to happen.
In a Q&A published on February 11—10 days after Myanmar’s military overthrew the country’s democratically elected government and imposed emergency rule—Myanmar journalist Aung Zaw, founder and editor of The Irrawaddy and a recipient of CPJ’s 2014 International Press Freedom Award, told CPJ, “Many are preparing for the inevitable. It is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ the military tightens their grip.”
And then the crackdown began.
Security forces have arrested hundreds of people protesting against the military junta and have killed at least 18 protesters, according to news reports. Since February 9, police have arrested at least 22 journalists working for local and international outlets, including many for reporting on demonstrations against the military government. At least two of the journalists who have been released are facing charges of disseminating information that could cause military officers to fail to perform their work, which is a criminal offense in the country and carries a fine and a two-year sentence.
CPJ continues to monitor the arrests, and we are working closely with our partners to ensure we are assisting any journalists who need support in the country.
The fight for justice in Khashoggi’s case continues
On February 25, the U.S. government declassified an intelligence report that alleged Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. CPJ welcomed the release of the report and called on the U.S. and its allies to sanction the crown prince and other members of the royal court to show the world that killing journalists has consequences.
In an op-ed for Just Security, co-written by Knight First Amendment Institute Director Jameel Jaffer, CPJ’s executive director, Joel Simon, highlighted the importance of delivering justice for Khashoggi.
“This is a watershed moment, and how the Biden administration responds to this monstrous crime will tell us a great deal about the depth of its commitment to press freedom and human rights,” Simon and Jaffer wrote. “It’s also a test for Congress and for American business and civic leaders.”
In the op-ed, Simon and Jaffer outline a number of steps the Biden administration should take, including disclosing other key documents related to the case, as well as the report written by the CIA a few weeks after Khashoggi’s murder, and disclosing whether U.S. intelligence agencies knew of the threat and, if so, whether they warned him. They also highlight steps that Congress, as well as American business leaders, should take to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the murder.
Meanwhile, CPJ continues to push for justice in Khashoggi’s killing. We have joined our partners in endorsing the Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act, which, if passed, would forbid U.S. foreign assistance to governments that carry out human rights violations against journalists and creates a sanctions system for individuals who do the same. We are also leading a lawsuit calling for intelligence agencies to release any documents they have concerning their awareness of threats against Khashoggi, who was a U.S. resident at the time of his death, and their duty to warn him.
Convictions in journalist murders
“If the killers of justice are not held to account, they are emboldened and the violence repeats,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna. “This is why seeking justice in journalist murders is one of the most important things that we do here at CPJ.”
In February, nearly three and a half years after Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in a car bomb, an individual has been sentenced for her murder.
Vincent Muscat, who was arrested in 2017, confessed to participating in Caruana Galizia’s murder and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The Guardian reported that Muscat admitted to all six charges in Caruana Galizia’s murder—willful homicide, causing an explosion, illegal possession of explosives, conspiracy to carry out a crime, promotion of a criminal group, and participation in a criminal group.
In Bangladesh, six individuals were convicted for their involvement in the 2015 murder of Avijit Roy, a writer who criticized religious fundamentalism on his blog; eight members of the same group were separately convicted for killing Roy’s publisher, Faisal Arefin Dipan. The murders of Roy and Dipan were among a number of slayings of bloggers and writers in the country that year.
Five of the individuals were sentenced to death for their involvement in Roy’s murder, and the sixth, to life in prison; all eight received the death sentence for Dipan’s murder. CPJ welcomed the convictions, with CPJ Senior Asia Researcher Aliya Iftikhar saying, “Impunity has long perpetuated a cycle of violence and fear in Bangladesh,” but urging Bangladesh to “hand down humane sentences to these defendants on their appeals.”
In Egypt, Mahmoud Hussein Goma freed from prison
For more than four years, CPJ has advocated for the release of Mahmoud Hussein Goma, an Egyptian Al-Jazeera journalist who was first jailed in December 2016.
Hussein was detained after Al-Jazeera broadcast a film about soldiers’ conscription in Egypt. The Interior Ministry said the journalist had worked with Al-Jazeera to produce fake documentaries about the country’s institutions, and he was charged with “incitement against state institutions and broadcasting false news with the aim of spreading chaos.”
An Egyptian court in 2019 ordered Hussein to be freed from jail, but while his release was being processed, he was rearrested and charged with “membership of a banned group and spreading false news.” Since then, his detention has been renewed repeatedly.
For years, CPJ called on Egyptian authorities to free Hussein. We published alerts that condemned his continued imprisonment and advocated for his freedom. We included his case in our year-end census profiling all journalists jailed around the world in relation to their work and on the One Free Press list of most urgent cases. And we advocated for his freedom with the U.S. State Department and U.S. Congress. We also joined Al-Jazeera’s international campaign that called for the journalist’s release and appeared on Al-Jazeera numerous times, stating unequivocally that he must be freed.
“We are thrilled that Mahmoud Hussein Goma was freed from prison and believe that he should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa coordinator. “However, even today he is forced to report to police twice a week. This must end immediately.”
CPJ’s senior Africa researcher, Jonathan Rozen, writes about how U.S. copyright law and fake Gmail accounts were used to censor a report by Ghanian journalist Emmanuel Dogbevi on gambling in Kenya.
CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia associate, Elene Rodina, spoke with editors of Mediazona, a punk rock-founded Russian news outlet about the jailing of one of their editors—for a tweet.
Top South African investigative journalist Sam Sole tells CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal about the impact of a court decision in the country this month that not only protects journalists and their sources from surveillance abuse but also upheld a ruling that found that bulk interception of citizens’ data and communication is illegal.
CPJ in the news
“Put America first again in backing a free press,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Senior US House Democrat introduces Khashoggi Act to protect journalists,” Middle East Eye
“In China, journalists are targets and collateral,” Columbia Journalism Review
“9 ways to support journalists even if you’re broke,” Book Riot