Egyptian court seeks death penalty against three journalists

Reuters reports: An Egyptian court has recommended the death penalty for three journalists and three others charged with endangering national security by leaking state secrets to Qatar, in a ruling condemned by the Doha-based al-Jazeera channel as shocking.

Jordanian national Alaa Omar Sablan and Ibrahim Mohammed Helal, who both work for al-Jazeera, and Asmaa al-Khateeb, a reporter for Rassd – a pro-Muslim Brotherhood news network, were sentenced in absentia. They can appeal.

The sentence is the latest since a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood after an army takeover stripped former president Mohamed Morsi of power in 2013 following mass protests against his rule.

Al-Jazeera said the ruling provoked “shock and anger” and called for international action to safeguard journalists’ rights to report news freely.

“The death sentence against journalists is unprecedented in the history of world media and amounts to a real stab against freedom of expression around the world,” the satellite channel said in a statement posted on its website. [Continue reading…]

In an editorial, the New York Times says: In addition to leading a repressive and abusive regime, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt also appears to be running an increasingly incompetent one. On Tuesday, the Interior Ministry accidentally released confidential guidelines to stop critical reporting by the news media, including instructions not to admit mistakes and a proposed rule to stop all coverage related to the torture and murder of an Italian student.

The leak, which the ministry explained as a “technical malfunction,” offered evidence, if more was needed, of the military government’s brutal and destructive approach to the wave of discontent sweeping Egypt.

Mr. Sisi, the former chief of the Egyptian armed forces, came to power in the political struggle that followed the Arab Spring protests of 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi, elected after the ouster of the dictatorial former president, Hosni Mubarak, was overthrown by the military in 2013, and in short order Mr. Sisi began a crackdown on the Brotherhood as well as any form of criticism, including that of human rights activists and independent journalists.

The intensification of political repression has been accompanied by one crisis after another, including an outcry in Italy over the torture and murder of an Italian graduate student, which the Italians believe was carried out by Egyptian security services. The unlikely trigger for the current spate of protests was the transfer of two uninhabited Egyptian islands to Saudi Arabia. With political passions running high, the transfer provoked a furious reaction from Egyptians who believed the government was peddling Egyptian land for Saudi dollars. The ensuing demonstrations led to mass arrests and confrontation with journalists, who rallied again in Cairo on Wednesday, demanding the dismissal of the interior minister.

With the government largely hidden from public view, it is not even clear whether Mr. Sisi has full control over the political repression, abductions, torture and other human-rights violations ascribed to the security services. President Obama has not concealed his frustration with Middle Eastern allies like Saudi Arabia. It’s time for him to make clear to Egypt’s rulers that the United States will not continue pumping military aid into a regime at war with its own people. [Continue reading…]

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