Egypt is to put numerous journalists on trial for their alleged connections to “terrorist organizations.” Since a violent counter-revolution swept through the country last year, the interim government has been led by the military and a significant crackdown on unrest has ensued. Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, was removed by the army following massive protests that accused Morsi of abusing his powers. His political party, the Muslim Brotherhood, has been banned in the country and aiding or participating in the party in any way results in hefty prison sentences.
The journalists that are to be prosecuted belong to the Qatari based Al-Jazeera. The country is currently detaining eight of the news network’s journalists while twelve appear to have been able to elude authorities. Four of the journalists are foreigners and the rest are Egyptian nationals. The General Prosecutor’s office has issued a statement accusing the nationals of a range of crimes. These include belonging to a terrorist organization, preventing state institutions from conducting their affairs, assault on the liberties of Egyptians and damaging national unity. The foreigners have been charged with “aiding a terrorist organization.” Since the military took control of the government, communicating in any way with the Muslim Brotherhood is considered a crime, due to the alleged violence committed by Brotherhood members since the ousting of the former president.
A spokesman for Al-Jazeera has described the claims as “absurd, baseless, and false.” The network maintains that the journalists’ detention challenges free speech and the right of people to access information regarding events on the ground. Al-Jazeera recently held a news conference in London demanding their immediate release and has removed remaining journalists from the country.
Regardless, Egypt is expected to put these journalists on trial likely to use them as an example against further demonstration. The network is viewed as one of the only Arab news networks that provided a harsh critique on the crackdown by Egyptian security forces. Al-Jazeera claims it has provided unbiased news and has been joined in calling for the release of the detained journalists by Amnesty International, Committee to Protect Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders.
Detained journalist and Australian national Peter Greste has written a letter describing the conditions in Egyptian jail as deplorable. It is claimed that he lacks access to such basic necessities as blankets and pillows. He stated that the jail is overflowing with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and their sympathizers who are accused of dissent. Greste accused the government of not tolerating any voices criticizing the current state of affairs.
As Egypt plans to put a number of journalists on trial for terrorism charges, the international community ponders over what to do. Currently, the United States is still providing the country with aid hoping that the situation can be solved. Top military leader, Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, is most likely going to pursue a candidacy in the next presidential election. In the meanwhile, the country is being plagued by sectarian violence that threatens the overall security of the region. As long as journalists continue to be detained and put on trial in Egypt, the transparency of its democratic process will be called into question.
By Peter Grazul