Egypt Ramps Up Crackdown On Al Jazeera, Other Foreign Journalists

Posted January 3rd, 2014 at 7:07 pm (UTC+0)
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People are seen in a burnt studio of Al Jazeera TV network, at Tahrir Square in Cairo November 21, 2012. The studio used by the Al Jazeera TV network was set on fire in central Cairo as security forces and protesters fought in the streets of the Egyptian capital for a third day. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

People are seen in a burnt studio of Al Jazeera TV network, at Tahrir Square in Cairo November 21, 2012. The studio used by the Al Jazeera TV network was set on fire in central Cairo as security forces and protesters fought in the streets of the Egyptian capital for a third day. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Rights groups and media organizations are expressing outrage over the arrest of three Al Jazeera English (AJE) journalists Sunday.  They were arrested in their makeshift studio in a Cairo hotel, accused of “belonging to a terrorist group and broadcasting false news that harms national security.”

Bureau Chief Mohamed Fahmy, Peabody-award winning Australian journalist Peter Greste,  producer Baher Mohamed and cameraman Mohamed Fawzy were arrested in their makeshift studio in a Marriott hotel room. Authorities also confiscated their cameras and equipment.

Fahmy, as @Repent11, last tweeted on December 28th about attacks on military security buildings in El Arish, in northern Sinai, as well as clashes between security forces and students at Al Azhar University, the 10th century seat of Islamic scholarship in Cairo.  Students had taken to the streets a day earlier to protest the government’s designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist Fahmygroup. Fahmy’s family is now tweeting on his behalf.

The arrests bring to five the number of Al Jazeera journalists now detained in Egypt.

Al Jazeera cameraman Mohamed Badr was arrested July 15, 2013, while covering clashes between security forces and supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi in Ramses Square, and Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent Abdullah Al Shami was arrested August 14, 2013, while covering the military crackdown on supporters of toppled President Mohamed Morsi at an encampment in Rab’aa.

Journalist Metin Turan, a senior reporter from the state-owned Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, was released by Egyptian authorities in December after being detained for more than 100 days in the Egyptian capital and this week returned home to Istanbul.

Salah Negm is Director of News for Al Jazeera English, based in Doha.  RePRESSed reached him by telephone for an update.

To listen to the interview, use the audio player at the bottom of this post.

RePRESSed:  Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste remain in jail.  They were arrested along with cameraman Mohamed Fawzy on Sunday – what were the charges?

Al Jazeera Cairo Bureau Chief Mohamed Fahmy. Courtesy, Sherif Fahmy.

Al Jazeera Cairo Bureau Chief Mohamed Fahmy. Courtesy/Sherif Fahmy.

Negm: When they were arrested, there were no charges, but what we understand from unofficial accounts is that they were questioned about their relationship to the Muslim Brotherhood.  They were broadcasting and they have videotapes and pictures from around Egypt, and of course we all know that correspondents who work for television will for sure have pictures and they will have video cameras, which is of course quite normal.

As for the relation to the Muslim Brotherhood or terrorism, that is of course a fabrication and nonsense.

RePRESSed:  Your cameraman, Mohamed Fawzy, was released.  Why was he released so quickly, do you think?

Negm:  We don’t know.  No one knows.  In Egypt nowadays, you don’t get justification or explanation. We don’t really get any official account. Their situation now is that they are under investigation.  There is no case yet, and nothing is proven or not proven.  It’s all allegation.

RePRESSed:  Are you in touch with authorities in Egypt?

Negm:  We have our lawyers who are following the case with the prosecutor general, but what we are outraged about is that you don’t arrest journalists like this. They are world-renowned journalists who are working for an international television station.  You don’t arrest them like this for doing their journalistic duty in a normal way.  And that’s not acceptable.

RePRESSed: Mr. Negm, Al Jazeera has a history of bad relations with Egypt going back at least to last summer.  Why do you believe Al Jazeera is being targeted by Egyptian authorities?

Negm:  I wouldn’t say Al Jazeera has bad relations with Egypt.  Al Jazeera was following one editorial policy, which is that we are objective and we broadcast the facts as we know them after verifying them and making sure that they are correct and accurate as much as a journalist can do.

What happens is that when the facts are not suitable to the story that the government, or a political party or a part of the society want to appear, then the relations backfire with that party or government or political power or whatever.  But we are following the same editorial line and editorial policy sanctioned by the establishment of Al Jazeera in 1996 until now.  So, the relationship specifically with Egypt was very good some times and bad other times, depending on how Egyptian authorities liked the facts to go out to the people—or not.

Al Jazeera journalists are not the only ones arrested in Egypt. This undated photograph shows Mohammed Abdel-Moneim, a photojournalist with Al-Badil newspaper, who was arrested with another photographer, Ahmed Hendawi from Yqeen online news network by Egyptian security forces while covering a demonstration in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. Military prosecutors interrogated the two journalists arrested a day earlier during a protest organized by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi in an eastern Cairo neighborhood, Rawda Ahmed, a lawyer at the Arab Network for Human rights Information, said Saturday.(AP Photo/Mohammed el-Shahed)

Al Jazeera journalists are not the only ones arrested in Egypt. This undated photograph shows Mohammed Abdel-Moneim, a photojournalist with Al-Badil newspaper, who was arrested with another photographer, Ahmed Hendawi from Yqeen online news network by Egyptian security forces while covering a demonstration in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. AP Photo/Mohammed el-Shahed

And that, by the way, isn’t only the case in Egypt.  It is the case with other governments, appallingly, East and West.

RePRESSed:  Other Al Jazeera  journalists were arrested previously.  What do we know about their condition?

Negm: Two journalists working for Al Jazeera Arabic were arrested for almost five months ago now.  One of them [Abdullah Al-Shami, along with over 300 prisoners] is on a hunger strike now.  They are held in a  criminal prison.  One of them is held with something like 15 other inmates in a very small cell.  Their imprisonment is being renewed as under investigation, 15 days at a time, for five months.  And they have not been put on trial. Their case was never referred to a court.  It’s just an extended arbitrary arrest.

RePRESSed:  Has the network been in touch and are family members able to visit?

Negm:  Family members visit with difficulty. The network is in touch through its legal representatives and lawyers.

RePRESSed:  Is there anything you’d like to add that you feel that my readers should know?

Negm:  I would add that journalists do their work and they try to convey the facts and the truth, whether governments and political parties like it or not, and they sometimes pay a price for that.

But in a country that is trying to outline a road map for democracy, this is not at all the way to  achieve democracy, freedom of expression or freedom for people in general, innocent people the government shouldn’t throw in jail this way.

Listen to audio of Cecily Hilleary’s interview with Salah Negm, below:

 

 

Cecily Hilleary
Cecily began her reporting career in the 1990s, covering US Middle East policy for an English-language network in the UAE. She has lived and/or worked in the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf, consulting and producing for several regional radio and television networks and production houses, including MBC, Al-Arabiya, the former Emirates Media Incorporated and Al-Ikhbaria. She brings to VOA a keen understanding of global social, cultural and political issues.

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