Protests over jailed journalists

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Published: Monday 29th December 2014 by The News Editor

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A British Al-Jazeera journalist has urged the Egyptian government to release three journalists imprisoned over terror charges.

Friends and colleagues of Al-Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Baher Mohammed and Mohammed Fahmy held a protest outside the Egyptian embassy in London to mark a year since their incarceration.

In June this year Mr Greste and Mr Fahmy each received seven-year sentences, and Mr Mohammed got 10 years. Three other foreign journalists, including former Channel 4 News and Sky News reporter Sue Turton, were sentenced to 10 years in absentia.

Around 50 protesters held placards with slogans including “Free them now” and “Journalism is not a crime”.

Many also stood with manacled wrists or tape over their mouths.

Ms Turton said: “The message is ‘enough is enough.’ Our guys have now been in prison for 365 days.”

She added: “We were doing what all the other journalists in Cairo were also trying to do. The three guys in prison were just the same as any of the journalists standing here behind me.

“There’s nothing suspicion about the way that we were reporting there.”

She said that conditions had improved for the three journalists because of campaigning, but that they had been “crushed” at the guilty verdict.

She added that she was not feeling particularly positive about the appeal process, which is due to start on January 1.

“It could be months before the retrial happens, so we’re looking into 2016. So although there is a glimmer of hope that something positive could come out of that, if they stick with the letter of the law in Egypt we could be looking a long time into the future.”

Mr Fahmy and Mr Greste were arrested at the Marriott Hotel in Cairo on December 29 last year by police who raided their office suite.

Mr Mohammed was taken from his home later the same day.

Mr Greste, an award-winning reporter has dual Australian-Latvian citizenship, acting bureau chief in Cairo Mr Fahmy is Egyptian-Canadian, and Mr Mohammed, a producer, is Egyptian.

The three were accused by the Egyptian government of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood by giving it a media platform and equipment.

The two Egyptians were also accused of belonging to the Brotherhood, a group the government declared a terrorist organisation on December 25 last year.

Their sentencing sparked an international outcry and a silent demonstration attended by hundreds of media representatives took place outside BBC Broadcasting House in London.

At the time the National Union of Journalists were calling the sentences “outrageous”.

A parallel demonstration took place outside the Egyptian embassy in the Hague with attendees including Dutch journalist Rena Netjes, who was also convicted in absentia in June.

Ms Turton said that the journalists were imprisoned because the Egyptian government were trying to “send a message” to Qatar, who had backed the Muslim Brotherhood.

She said: “For Egypt’s sake, their economy is not looking too healthy, the tourism industry is flat-lining, so if they release our guys the image of Egypt will improve significantly.

“It’s not just ours – there are other journalists that Egypt is currently holding in prison just for doing their job that they also should release, and it would send such a great message to the world if they did that.”

Ann Marcus, Egypt country co-ordinator for Amnesty International, who was at the protest, called the reporters’ trial “farcical”.

“The authorities could not even produce relevant evidence of the three journalists working at the time. It was a trial that no Amnesty member would find convincing at all.”

She added: “It’s a complete fiction that they were destabilising the regime, what they were actually doing was doing their job. They were simply interviewing people from both sides in Egypt.”

Fellow protester Jessica Hatcher, a freelance feature writer, is Mr Greste’s neighbour in Nairobi, and has visited him in jail.

She said that June’s conviction was a “huge blow”, but that there have been rumours that the situation might now be more helpful ahead of January’s appeal.

She said: “He’s in relatively good nick. He’s staying mentally and physically fit. He’s doing a Masters in International Relations, he’s going running every day, he’s eating vegetables and herbs and cooking. He shares a cell which is slightly larger than the previous cell, with the other two.

“He has a lot of low moments, and when he does he has a box of letters which people have sent him, and he goes through them.”

She added: “He’s a very generous man, and an excellent baker. We all miss his chocolate brownies and fresh muffins. He’s a wonderful host, and he’s always looking after us, so it’s time we got him back so we can look after him.”

Phil Moore, a freelance photographer who also works in Nairobi, said: “It sets a dangerous precedent across the region. If other governments see that one country in the region is getting away with it then they could adopt a similar approach, which could make reporting throughout the whole region impossible.”

Daniel Schweimler, Al-Jazeera’s Buenos Aires correspondent, had previously worked with Peter Greste at the BBC. He said the terrorism charges were “stumped up” and that the journalists were being imprisoned for political reasons.

He said: “I know Peter, and I know from reputation the other two.

“They are good solid journalists who were simply doing their job.

“We are all under threat, and journalism is under threat. They have to release them. The more demonstrations like this, the more pressure we can assert, the better.”

Published: Monday 29th December 2014 by The News Editor

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