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When Egypt targets journalists, denial remains the name of the game - Daily News Egypt

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When Egypt targets journalists, denial remains the name of the game

By Jonathan Moremi On 29 December, 2013, three journalists working for the Al Jazeera English TV channel in Egypt – the Cairo Bureau Chief Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian, Peter Greste, a renowned Australian journalist, and the Egyptian Producer Baher Mohamed – were arrested in their rooms of the Marriott Hotel in Cairo, their equipment was …


Jonathan Moremi
Jonathan Moremi

By Jonathan Moremi

On 29 December, 2013, three journalists working for the Al Jazeera English TV channel in Egypt – the Cairo Bureau Chief Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian, Peter Greste, a renowned Australian journalist, and the Egyptian Producer Baher Mohamed – were arrested in their rooms of the Marriott Hotel in Cairo, their equipment was confiscated, and they were taken to the high security prison Tora, were high-profile leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, declared by the Egyptian government to be “terrorists”, are currently held.

For weeks no charges were laid against these journalists and Egypt refused to give any legal explanation. The Cairo Bureau Chief Fahmy was reportedly treated the worst of the three detained. While all had to suffer under solitary confinement, Fahmy got a “special” serving by continuously not being allowed medical treatment for a broken shoulder and having to sleep on the cold concrete floor in a cockroach-infested cell with no daylight.

On the anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, January 25, 2014, almost a month after the arrest, the treatment got even worse: the prison guards took away his watch, his jacket and the only blanket he had for sleeping on the floor. Medical treatment to his broken shoulder, four weeks into the injury, was further denied. For over 20 hours he was not given food or allowed to go to the bathroom. The guards explained this treatment as a “punishment” for a bomb attack the day before in Cairo – to which the journalist Fahmy in his solitary confinement plainly and clearly could not have had any connection.

On 29 January, the prosecutor general suddenly came up with charges against 20 Al Jazeera journalists, amongst them the three detained at Tora. Widely broadcast on Egyptian State TV under the banner “Fight against terrorism” the prosecution accused the journalists of having supported a terrorist group (aka the Muslim Brotherhood) by inventing false news about the situation in Egypt, thus shaming Egypt internationally and “harming national security”. Fahmy was in addition accused of being a member of the Brotherhood (which everyone who knows him affirms he is not) and therefore charged to be a “terrorist”.

Accusing and charging journalists of being terrorists just for interviewing members of a political group or reporting on clashes between the state security and this group was a serious attack on the freedom of press in Egypt and seen by many as a deliberate warning sign to other foreign journalists to not report the truth about the unrest in the country. The international reaction to this and the disturbing prison conditions was unusually clear and outspoken.

More than 40 editors and correspondents from international media organisations signed an open letter to the Egyptian government demanding the release of the journalists. Many international NGOs like amnesty international, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists or Reporters Without Borders protested against the treatment of the journalists and especially those detained under the extreme conditions in Tora and demanded for the charges to be dropped immediately and the journalists to be freed.

While the outcry of human rights organisations is never pleasant to regimes, the reaction on the governmental level can hurt a lot more. All regimes in Egypt, from Mubarak to SCAF, Morsi and now Mansour have managed brilliantly in getting the international community in shock over the lack of respect for human rights, justice and the right of an individual to not be subjected to bodily harm or even murder. If there has been one consistency in all regimes from Mubarak to today it is the violations by the army and the police under the approving eye of the Ministry of Interior and a purposeful or helpless looking away from the army generals.

For nations committed to international treaties of law and human rights this is hard to ignore. Even harder, when those at the receiving end of such violations are members of the independent media. For the press is rightly considered to be one of the important pillars of a democratic society: keeping a check on those who hold power to ensure that the rights of the citizens are not violated.

It came as no surprise thus that the arrests of the Al Jazeera journalists and subsequent gross charges against them evoked harsh criticism from outside Egypt. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was “extremely concerned about the increasingly severe clampdown and physical attacks on media in Egypt.” Voicing concern over “reports of journalists in detention being subjected to ill-treatment or being held in conditions that are not in line with international human rights standards”, the UNHCHR urged the Egyptian authorities “to promptly release all journalists imprisoned for carrying out legitimate news reporting activities in exercise of their fundamental human rights.”

The US State Department, in an unusual hard worded statement, called “the targeting of journalists on spurious claims wrong” and “an egregious disregard for the protection of basic rights and freedoms.” Although the US does not have journalists implicated in the matter, the Obama administration found the attack on independent media grave enough to be “alarmed” and pointed out: “Any journalists, regardless of affiliation, must not be targets of violence, intimidation, or politicised legal action. They must be protected and permitted to freely do their jobs in Egypt.”

Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, had summoned the Egyptian ambassador in Canberra already on 16 January into the Foreign Office and asked for a meeting of the Australian ambassador in Cairo with the General Prosecutor. Besides a promise, nothing came of it. When on 29 January Australian journalist Peter Greste was suddenly charged with supporting a terrorist group, Bishop picked up the phone and called her Egyptian counterpart, Nabil Fahmy. The conversation, she later disclosed, was a “very candid” one in which she again demanded a high-level meeting – which subsequently was staged just the next day in Cairo – and voiced her concern both on the abhorrent charges and the prison conditions to which Greste was subjected. She publicly promised later to keep engaging for the Australian journalist to try to ensure he receives both due process and from now on humane prison conditions.

The British Foreign Office acknowledged in a statement of being aware that amongst the 20 Al Jazeera journalists two Britons too had been charged in absentia with “supporting a terrorist group” and pointed out that already on 7 January in a personal conversation Foreign Secretary William Hague had raised concerns over the “continuing restrictions on freedom of expression and the press” to Egypt’s Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy. To no avail it seems, for the restrictions became even worse and ended in the charges of supporting terrorism. Yet the British spoke up.

Not so – and surprisingly enough – the Harper government in Canada. Although a Canadian-Egyptian journalist was clearly treated the worst of all and refused medical treatment for his broken shoulder for over a month, Ottawa saw no reason to overly get engaged let alone chide Egypt for any wrongdoing by targeting independent media. Though Harper himself is known to harbour a grunt for the press and seldom is seen engaging for Canadians getting into a fix abroad, the nonplussed reaction from his spokesperson Villeneuve, continuously refusing to say anything but that “consular services” were provided, were troubling and bore not much hope for incarcerated Mohamed Fahmy to get powerful support from the country where his parents live and whose citizenship he holds.

Nevertheless, and despite the failure on the part of Canada, the harsh criticism of the UN, Australia, the UK and especially the US unsurprisingly did not go down well with the Egyptian government. Badr Abdelatty, spokesperson for Foreign Minister Fahmy, seemed unaware of any prior voicing of concern on the part of foreign ministers regarding attacks on the independent media and declared the criticism “unacceptable”. He rejected “foreign interference or attempts to influence the independence of Egypt’s judiciary” and stressed that “the Egyptian judiciary provides all the legal safeguards for defendants, the most important of which are fair trials.” The abhorrent, torturous conditions under which especially the Canadian-Egyptian journalist Fahmy is held, who is still after a month refused medically needed treatment for a broken shoulder, Abdelatty ignored, rendering his assurance of legal safeguards for defendants invalid.

And while the chilling reports of how international and national journalists were abused by their guards in Tora prison made the rounds in London, Washington, Canberra and Geneva, ringing alarm bells to anyone believing Egypt to be on a promising ‘roadmap’ to democracy, President Mansour only a day later ignored the troubling facts on the ground with the same ease as his Foreign Minister. When a high-ranking delegation of the British parliament came to visit in the palace three days after the terrorism charges against the journalists were out and the MPs voiced concern that Egypt was drifting back into military rule, Mansour, according to his spokesperson Ihab Badawi, vehemently denied this. “The president expressed his surprise at what he hears and reads regarding that matter,” Badawi said.

At least when it comes to being surprised, the president is in the best of company. The countries whose journalists his regime so ruthlessly targets at the moment are audibly more than surprised that the President of Egypt is. Undoubtedly though in Egyptian politics, denial of atrocities committed by the state and to serious concerns voiced from foreign allies on this remains to be the sad name of the game.

Jonathan Moremi is an award-winning writer, journalist and blogger, concentrating mainly on Egypt and the Middle East in his reporting since the outbreak of the Arab revolutions. You can follow him on twitter at @jonamorem

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  • sam enslow

    I hope that those targeting journalists do not believe they are damaging The Brothers or helping Field Marshall ElSisi. The opposite is true. They are also hindering the development of a new free, proud Egypt that could be the example for all Arab countries.
    The Brothers thrive in the shadows. They love being persecuted. It seems a long time since Morsy was elected; however, I remember the image of The Brothers at the time. Even those who opposed them said give them a chance, they are good, smart guys, and have been fighting the old regime for a long time, look at what they do for the poor. Only when they became public figures did their true nature emerge. Please allow them full coverage in the media. The more light that shines on them the better. Refute propaganda with facts. The free market place of ideas actually works. Any trampling of human rights as granted in Egypt’s new constitution helps The Brothers, “See the old oppressors are back.”
    It appears Field Marshall ElSisi will be the next President of Egypt. If I were him, I would be scared to death. Egypt’s problems are many, and they can no longer be swept under the rug. He will need an honest and effective media to help him discover the truths (so long hidden) and real problems facing Egyptians. Real Egypt seems far removed from official Egypt. He will need the brainstorming of all Egyptians, thinking outside the box, to find solutions to Egypt’s problems. He needs everyone, Egyptian or otherwise, to present ideas so that choices can be made of the best ones. Tourism could even receive a boost from conferences on this subject or that. I saw an article recently about a young man who went to England to do graduate work only to find his Egyptian college degree gave him only a UK high school education. He is working to uplift the standards in Egyptian education. All 90 plus million Egyptians must do the same, and many will if encouraged. Google, one of the world’s fastest growing companies, actually encourages its research teams to fail, learn from their mistakes, and try again. That is how new ideas are created. Resolving old problems in old ways accomplishes nothing.
    Field Marshall ElSisi is now “The man of the hour.” That is a dangerous place to be. When Roman generals were honored with a triumph, a slave would stand next to him on his chariot and constantly say, “All fame is fleeting.” or “Remember you are just a man.” Pride comes before the fall. When Mubarak was being escorted out of the presidential palace, his associates were still telling him how much the people loved him. How many years had it been since Mubarak was told any problems were but the ravings of Egypt’s famous “One Crazy Man”.
    I do not have the impression that the Field Marshall is the type that goes and hides in his room to cry if anyone disagrees with him. He is a bigger man than that. It will be very dangerous to him and to Egypt if while welcoming the praise of the people of Egypt, he himself starts to believe it. If Egypt desires to honor The Field Marshall, let its people work with him and face challenges together as a team. Let your minds and your work be his tools to help build a new , free, rich Egypt. Egyptians are in for a disappointment if they believe the Field Marshall can do the job himself. It is too much for one man. In these days, Egypt needs hope and encouragement – not a show of teeth and brutality. That will not work on those who first went to Tahrir Square believing they were already dead and being shot would only give them a certificate saying so. Trust is needed in Egypt. No one believes the government, the press, or anyone. This must be restored, and it can only be restored through honesty, openness, and a feeling among the people that they do count and are a part of Egypt.

  • Kelley Christian

    If you take the time and watch and pay attention and follow money trails you will see why Egypt is cracking down on the media. Most people don’t bothered to check out things. Who funds the human right groups who are screaming and who do the big names in the HRG’s work for? These are important questions to ask. Many of the HRG’s are funded by the CIA if you know how to figure out who is who. So many things point to one thing, many powerful people don’t want Egypt to be it’s own boss. One major reason is the canal, he who controls the canal controls the sea traffic for that part of the world. Second is Israel border protection, the Camp David Accord is basically dead now. Third the Saini, how nice it would be to fill it up with all of the Palestine people and make that their state. Media is used and always has been for mass propaganda by both sides, but since the western news hardly ever covers the wrongs the MB do it has become so lop sided that the only way to give the new government a fighting chance is to crack down on the media. The first step of war is to convince those you want to be on your side is that you are the oppressed and persecuted side. Next is government involvement (sanctions) and third is military. We are very close to the sanctions stage now. In fact this will show you how it is done. Note the people who’s names are on the list … search out who they are and who they work for as well as what they do and who funds the groups they work for.

    http://carnegieendowment.org/2014/01/29/working-group-on-egypt-letter-to-president/gzmw

    You will find they are all behind the destabilization of many countries. Egypt is in a fight against these back door CIA ran organization funded by corporations to tear Egypt apart for their agenda.

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  • twinkle

    Egypt is not targeting journalists it is targeting those who incite violence. There’s a huge difference.

  • Pingback: When Egypt targets journalists, denial remains the name of the game (Daily News Egypt) | Jonathan Moremi()

https://dailynewsegypt.com/2014/02/02/egypt-targets-journalists-denial-remains-name-game/
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