Conviction of Al-Jazeera Reporters Marks Rapid Decline in Free Expression in Egypt
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NEW YORK—The conviction and sentencing of Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed this week punctuate a rapid decline for free expression in Egypt since the military government reclaimed power in 2013, PEN American Center said in statement today.
Fahmy, Greste, and Mohamed were first arrested on December 29, 2013, shortly after the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood-backed government. After a protracted legal process, the three were sentenced on appeal last week to three years in prison on charges of “aiding a terrorist organization,” spreading false news, and working without a license in the country. Baher Mohamed was sentenced to an additional six months of hard labor and a fine of £415 ($650 USD) for possession of a spent bullet casing.
“The conviction of Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed sets an alarming precedent in an already abysmal situation for free expression in Egypt and illustrates the lengths to which authorities will go to silence any voice that does not toe the official line,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression Programs at PEN American Center. “Egypt is experiencing its worst crackdown on free expression in decades, creating an environment where critical journalism is effectively illegal, forcing reporters to sacrifice their integrity for their livelihoods, and depriving a rejuvenated civil society access to a diverse range of information.”
In June 2014, Fahmy, Greste, and Mohamed were sentenced to lengthy prison terms on charges of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been deemed a terrorist organization by the military government led by General Abdel Fattah al Sisi. The three were granted a retrial in January. Peter Greste, however, was deported to his home country of Australia in February and tried in absentia. Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian dual national, may also avoid further jail time after renouncing his Egyptian citizenship. The Canadian government has formally filed to have him pardoned and deported to Canada.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that at least 18 journalists are currently jailed for their work in Egypt—more than any country but China, Iran, and Eritrea—mostly on overreaching terror-related charges stemming from the military takeover and new threats from Islamic State affiliates. Last month, Egypt instituted a new law that criminalizes the reporting of news that contradicts official government reports, imposing fines of up to $65,000 USD.
Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 4,200 U.S. writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide. www.pen.org
Sarah Edkins, Deputy Director for Communications: firstname.lastname@example.org, +1 (646) 779-4830