It has been a rough few weeks for 20 Al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt who have either been arrested and are awaiting trial or who have been fleeing and in hiding for their safety. According to the Egyptian government, the journalists are being put on trial to face charges of terrorism related to violation of the law, disrupting the law, preventing state institutions from operating normally and assaulting the liberties of its citizens while hurting social peace and national unity. Essentially, the journalists were doing their jobs, reporting the news and now the government’s feelings have been hurt over what they wrote.
Arrests Are Silly and Not Based on Reality
Sherif Mansour, coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists in the Middle East and North Africa has stated this type of behavior is exactly what gives Egypt a poor international image. Their inability to handle criticism has led to them criminalizing the Al-Jazeera journalist’s reports. Mansour is not the only one who feels this way. Salil Shetty, the secretary-general for Amnesty International calls the Egyptian governments decision “a major setback for media freedom.”
Mohamed Morsi, the Islamist president says that the charges are not based on any reality and in fact, are silly. The Egyptian government considers the 20 Al-Jazeera journalists to be strong backers of the Muslim Brotherhood who were relinquished of their power last July by the military. The government’s hurt feelings over the Al-Jazeer reports and decision to put the journalists on trial creates an increasingly hostile atmosphere in the nation and makes it both difficult and dangerous to be a legitimate reporter in the country. Shetty stated that the only acceptable message in Egypt is the one which comes directly from the authorities.
These are not the only recent freedom-of-speech related arrests in Egypt. 11 Muslim Brotherhood members have been detained over accusations of running Facebook pages which called for police violence and urged for protests against governments that are backed by their military. It is questionable whether the arrests came as a result of fear and precautionary measures, given that the 2011 Egyptian uprising was largely started, motivated and managed through the use of Facebook and other social media platforms.
Prison Conditions Are Horrific
Out of the 20 journalists that have been put to trial, eight of them remain in captivity and are being held in prison with conditions described as being “horrific.” Parents of Peter Greste, one of the foreign journalists being held prisoner from Australia are worried for the well-being of their son who loves the outdoors and is now being held in solitary confinement 24 hours a day. Letters smuggled by Greste to his parents, Lois and Juris describe the prison as being basically empty. There are no beds for them to sleep on and they are not even given blankets. Fortunately, Heather Allan from Al-Jazeera has managed to smuggle in food, toiletries and blankets although they have likely been taken away.
Julie Bishop, Foreign Minister has been in contact with the Egyptian government on behalf of the Greste family but has not elaborated on any of the details about Peter or any of the other 20 journalists who have been put on trial over what really comes down to hurt feelings. Juris Greste is completely outraged at the Egyptian government for arresting his son because someone didn’t like what he reported. Greste continues to state his discontent that to make matters worse, his son is being held in maximum security rather than detention. With good fortune, this story will have a happy and peaceful resolution yet.
By Jonathan Holowka
The Washington Post