Al Jazeera reporters Mohamad Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, and Peter Greste have been sentenced to three years in prison. The Canadian-Egyptian, Egyptian, and Australian journalists were charged with being a part of a terrorist organization and “airing falsified footage intended to damage national security.” The sentencing has incited a massive outcry against the verdict, as well as disapprobation on the part of The European Union. Defense-lawyer Amal Clooney stated,
“It sends a message that journalists can be locked up for simply doing their job, for telling the truth and reporting the news. And it sends a dangerous message that there are judges in Egypt who will allow their courts to become instruments of political repression and propaganda.”
Judge Hassan Farid maintained that his ruling was based on the men having not registered with the country’s journalist syndicate. The Egyptian Journalists Syndicate is the only government allowed journalist organization that advocates for the rights of journalist, however today, it has seemingly succumbed to arbitrary power, in the way that it has censored dissemination of information that may highlight any corruption in the Egyptian government. In regard to this case, the verdict comes with backlash from Al Jazeera’s acting director general who stated that:
“There is no evidence proving that our colleagues in any way fabricated news or aided and abetted terrorist organizations and at no point during the long drawn out retrial did any of the unfounded allegations stand up to scrutiny.”
Many have come to agree with him, and so this would strengthen the notion that the three reporters had been jailed in response to their broadcasting of any corruption they thought should be shared.
Since Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ousted President Mohammed Morsi from political power, the laws ratified under his presidency have garnered international scrutiny vis-à-vis the repressive mandates which censure media outlets for anti-governmental reporting. The constitution contains ambiguous articles which make it feasible to revoke the intention of one article, based on the exceptions entailed within the article. Freedom House has highlighted a number of articles that seemingly contradict one another,
“Article 65 guarantees freedom of thought, opinion, and the expression thereof. Article 68 declares that all official state documents and information are the property of the people, who have the right to access such materials in a timely and transparent manner. Articles 70, 71, and 72 all govern the press, providing for many of the rights that support a free media environment.”
However, they are left in ambiguity when read in full:
“Article 71 authorizes media censorship ‘in times of war or general mobilization.’ The same article, which ostensibly eliminates jail terms for media offenses, leaves room for imprisonment for crimes related to incitement of violence, discrimination, and defamation…Moreover, the existing press laws and penal code… can be used to imprison journalists. For example, defamation is a criminal offense, and sentences of up to five years in prison can be imposed for blasphemy, or “exploiting religion in spreading, either by words, in writing or in any other means, extreme ideas for the purposes of inciting strife, ridiculing or insulting [the Abrahamic faiths] or a sect following it, or damaging national unity.”
In short, it is apparent that the government does not want to overtly admit to the censorship of journalism, yet it fails to convince anyone that the verdict stems from a non-political bias.
Featured image provided by The Independent.