Up to 20 journalists are being charged with reporting “false news” according to the government in Egypt. The journalists, both foreign and domestic, are set to go on trial for “collusion” and “harming national security”, claims which has human rights groups up in arms.
Authorities in Egypt have not set an exact date for the trial, nor have they released a list containing the roster of defendants, but the General Prosecutor’s office in Egypt released a statement asserting that the individuals detained belonged to a terrorist organization. The General Prosecutor’s office went on to say that the journalist’s activities in the country were “disrupting the law” and “preventing state institutions from conducting their affairs”, as well as “damaging national unity and social peace.”
Observers are saying that the only thing that has been disrupted by the journalist’s activities is the attempt to quell media reports on the violent crackdowns perpetrated by the Egyptian authorities following the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi back in 2013.
The journalists were arrested in their Cairo hotel room on December 29th where they were using the room as a temporary bureau. Twelve of those journalists arrested belong to Al-Jazeera, the Qatari-based media organization. Several of those arrested are prominent reporters, including Award winning correspondent Peter Greste, and Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed.
Amnesty International’s secretary general Salil Shetty said that the arrest and trial of the journalists is a “major setback for media freedom in Egypt.”
Ironically enough the crackdown on the freedom of press and expression is among some of the complaint former President Mohammed Morsi received while he was still in power, ultimately leading to mass protests and demonstrations which resulted in a military-backed coup. One such incident involved the persecution of Egyptian comedian and political satirist Bassem Youssef after he made fun of the president’s hat. Bassem Youssef’s show had been the target of censorship by the Morsi administration.
The expansion of the crackdown from Muslim Brotherhood members to independent journalists is a sore sign for the aspiring democracy say analysts, and the trend may only grow as the military consolidates its power.
Letters smuggled out of the prison by the journalists attest to the prison’s poor living conditions, describing them as “horrific.:
There are few who are standing to defend the Egyptian government’s actions, but former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said after a meeting with Egypt’s army leader Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the man credited with the overthrow of Morsi, that the government did what it had to do.
Tony Blair went on to say that the Muslim Brotherhood were the real oppressors of freedom, and that the army’s intervention was at the will of the people.
While analysts say the initial removal of Morsi was under the banner of greater freedom for the Egyptian people, the army has used this politically vulnerable moment to seize power and crackdown on dissidents.
Other reports of crackdowns via social media have arisen, with Facebook page administrators being arrested for their dissent against the Egyptian army.
The 20 journalists arrested for reporting “false news” remain imprisoned in Egypt, with little sign of relief anytime soon.
by John Amaruso