Al Jazeera journalists freed from Egypt prison

Al Jazeera reports: Jailed Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed have been released from prison following a presidential pardon in Egypt.

Dozens of activists have also been released as part of a pardon marking the occasion of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday that starts on Thursday, Alaa Youssef, a spokesperson for the Egyptian presidency, has told the al-Ahram newspaper. [Continue reading…]


Dark day for press freedom

Al Jazeera reports: Following today’s retrial verdict in Cairo, Al Jazeera Media Network’s Acting Director General Dr Mostefa Souag said: “Today’s verdict defies logic and common sense.

Our colleagues Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy will now have to return to prison, and Peter Greste is sentenced in absentia.”

The whole case has been heavily politicised and has not been conducted in a free and fair manner. There is no evidence proving that our colleagues in any way fabricated news or aided and abetted terrorist organisations and at no point during the long drawn out retrial did any of the unfounded allegations stand up to scrutiny. [Continue reading…]

Al Jazeera also reports: Egypt’s foreign ministry has summoned the British ambassador over comments he made on a court’s decision to hand down prison sentences for three Al Jazeera journalists, state television has reported.

Ahmed Abu Zeid, a spokesperson for the ministry, on Sunday tweeted that the ministry objected to John Casson’s comments, calling them “unacceptable intrusion” in the country’s judiciary. [Continue reading…]


Mohamed Fahmy still fighting for his freedom

The Toronto Star reports: Mohamed Fahmy may be out of prison but he is still fighting for his freedom.

“We’re still living in this nightmare,” Fahmy told the Star in a wide-ranging interview from his family home in Cairo. “Of course I feel a little bit better that I’m out and I’m able to enjoy this freedom, but it’s still not gone. It’s still there.”

The 40-year-old Canadian journalist was let out on bail early Friday morning after spending more than a year behind bars along with his Al Jazeera English colleagues, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed. In a case that reverberated around the world, the three had been imprisoned by Egyptian authorities on terror-related charges and sentenced to between seven and 10 years.

Fahmy’s release was ordered on Thursday, the first day of a retrial that he and Mohamed are facing after Egypt’s highest appeals court overturned their conviction on Jan. 1 and issued a damning appraisal of their original trial. Greste, who is still named in the case, was deported to Australia two weeks ago. The next session in court is scheduled for Feb. 23.

“I don’t trust that we’re going to be acquitted, and to think that is naive,” he said. “Anyone who’s covered Egyptian political events and the judiciary here knows that unless you are really vindicated, it doesn’t end. We can celebrate for a couple days, but I’m still very cautious and very aware that more needs to be done on every level.”

Fahmy’s family had to secure the $41,000 bail before he was able to leave prison.

“I was just walking around the house and looking at the bed and enjoying the fact that I don’t have a cop watching me 24 hours a day,” he said Saturday.

The case has made front-page news in Egypt, and Fahmy marvelled at the fact he was now recognized in the street, describing how several strangers approached him to shake his hand and welcome his release.

As a condition of his bail, Fahmy must report to a police station every day and is banned from travelling. None of his possessions, including ID cards and passport, that were seized during his arrest have been returned. [Continue reading…]


Surviving a barrel bomb attack in Syria

Abo Bakr al-Haj Ali writes: It was like any normal day: I was at work in Al-Jazeera’s office in the southern city of Daraa. The bureau was housed in a residential apartment block, not far from my family home in the neighbouring countryside.

At 11:35am local time exactly, my colleagues and I heard the roar of a helicopter in the sky. We quickly finished what we were doing and rushed to get out of the building to the relative safety of the street.

I heard the sound of the first barrel bomb land nearby, and after a few seconds a second barrel bomb crashed into the office building. I knew that this was no fluke and that we had been purposefully targeted, most likely for the work we had been covering.

It was an awful, indescribable feeling. I can’t remember much of what happened next. It was a big shock, and while I am certainly no stranger to these deadly devices, I recall being frightened and I quickly fell to the ground.

I couldn’t see anything and the dust and smoke from the debris began to choke me as I struggled for breath. While little oxygen made it to my lungs, a wretched stench began to permeate my nostrils. I’m still not sure what the smell was, but I think it was trinitrotoluene, known more commonly as TNT. [Continue reading…]


Egypt reporter to stand trial alone as foreign colleagues freed

AFP reports: With Australian Peter Greste freed and a Canadian colleague close to release, the other Al-Jazeera journalist arrested in Cairo faces languishing in jail for an indefinite period because he has only Egyptian nationality.

Under global pressure to release the prisoners, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a decree tailored for Greste and colleague Mohamed Fahmy, allowing the deportation of foreigners but overlooking Baher Mohamed in the process.

Greste, an acclaimed reporter for Al-Jazeera English, was deported last week.

Fahmy, a dual national, had to renounce his Egyptian citizenship and his release and deportation to Canada is imminent, a government official said.

But in the face of delays, prominent lawyer Amal Clooney, who married Hollywood star George Clooney last year, has requested a meeting with Sisi to press Fahmy’s case, a letter obtained by AFP on Saturday showed, leaving Mohamed in the cold.

“We’re paying the price for being Egyptian,” his embittered wife Jihan Rashid told AFP. [Continue reading…]


Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste deported from Egypt

The Guardian: One of the three al-Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt, Peter Greste, has landed in Cyprus after being deported from Egypt following 400 days in jail, his brother has told the Guardian.

Mike Greste confirmed that the Australian journalist had arrived in Cyprus and said he would issue a full statement later on. An interior ministry spokesman had earlier confirmed Peter Greste’s deportation under a recently enacted decree.

“A presidential decree has been issued to deport him to continue his punishment period in Australia. The foreign ministry co-ordinated with the Australian embassy and his plane took off at 4.10pm [local time],” he said.


Three Al Jazeera journalists remain in jail after Egyptian court orders a retrial

The New York Times reports: Egypt’s highest appeals court on Thursday ordered a retrial for three imprisoned journalists from Al Jazeera’s English-language service, implicitly acknowledging critical procedural flaws in a case that rights advocates have described, from the men’s arrests to their convictions, as a sham.

But the decision offered no guarantees that the journalists, who have been imprisoned for more than a year and now face a potentially lengthy second trial, would be freed anytime soon.

The convictions of the three men, Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste, focused international condemnation on the government, drawing attention to a sweeping crackdown on news media freedom and political dissent since the military ouster of the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

And from its beginnings, analysts say, the case has perhaps had little to do with the actions of the journalists themselves. Instead, they suggest it reflects a bitter dispute between Egypt’s military-backed government, led by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera and has been a strong backer of his Islamist opponents in the Muslim Brotherhood.

The men were convicted in June on charges that included conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to broadcast false reports, though prosecutors presented no evidence for such claims. All three were sentenced to seven-year prison terms, but Mr. Mohamed received three additional years for possessing a spent bullet casing that he picked up at an anti-government street protest.

The case has drawn special notice partly because the defendants had reputations as experienced journalists and had in the past worked for other well-known international news organizations. But their ordeal, which the men have outlined in letters from prison and in messages sent through family members, has also highlighted the plight of thousands of Egyptians — including Islamists, leftist activists and other journalists — swept up by the authorities on charges that are widely viewed as politically motivated. [Continue reading…]


Journalists under attack around the world


Why Israel is losing the media war

David Zurawik writes: Israel is losing the public relations war over its action in Gaza in a way I cannot remember seeing in any of its recent military actions. And part of that is due to the suffering of Palestinian civilians being depicted with an unprecedented sensitivity and prominence — at least, in American media.

More journalists in Gaza and more social media are among the reasons given for the change.

“There were only a couple Western journalists in Gaza when Israel invaded in 2008,” says Michael Calderone, Huffington Post senior media reporter. “Now, there are dozens covering every air strike in real-time through social media, complete with graphic images of Palestinian civilians, and even children, being killed and injured. So there’s a disconnect between Israeli officials’ repeated claims on TV about fighting terrorism and extensive footage we’re seeing of Israel bombing schools, shelters and hospitals in Gaza.”

As Calderone sees it, such images have upended traditional packaging of stories out of Gaza.

“The American public may have seen a few stray images or video clips from Gaza in the past as part of a TV package, but such scenes would be interspersed with the views from experts and government officials,” he said in an email to The Sun. “A network correspondent now can take a heartbreaking video of a Palestinian mother grieving for her lost son, post it on Facebook, and the video will go viral several hours before the evening newscast.”

An online headline from New York Magazine last week put it this way: “‘Telegenically dead Palestinians:’ Why Israel is losing the American media war.”

No one is doing a more thorough job of covering the death and destruction in Gaza than Al Jazeera. Social media are absolutely a driving force in the shift in coverage, but I also believe the heavy presence of Al Jazeera and the excellent work its correspondents and producers are doing have raised the games of all the news organizations on the ground. [Continue reading…]


Egypt’s president says Al Jazeera journalists should never have been tried

The Associated Press reports: Egypt’s president has acknowledged for the first time that the heavy sentences handed down to three al-Jazeera journalists had a “very negative” impact on his country’s reputation, saying he wished they had never been put on trial.

The comments by Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to Egyptian media editors, published late on Sunday, are the first public recognition by Egyptian officials that the case has damaged the country’s international relations.

The sentencing of the Australian reporter Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian acting bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed on 23 June, after a five-month trial described as a “sham” by rights groups, caused an international outcry.

“The verdict issued against a number of journalists had very negative consequences, and we had nothing to do with it,” Sisi said, suggesting it had no political element. “I wished they were deported immediately after their arrest instead of being put on trial.” [Continue reading…]


Human Rights Watch: Al Jazeera convictions in Egypt a miscarriage of justice

Human Rights Watch: A Cairo court sentenced three Al Jazeera English staff members to multi-year prison sentences on June 23, 2014, after a trial in which prosecutors failed to present any credible evidence of criminal wrongdoing. These convictions are the latest step in Egypt’s unrelenting assault on free expression, dramatically reversing gains made following the January 25, 2011 uprising.

The verdict comes the day after US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Cairo to meet with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry. During the meeting, news media reported, Kerry said he was “absolutely confident” that the US would soon restore suspended aid to Egypt, noting that President al-Sisi “gave me a very strong sense of his commitment” to “a re-evaluation of the judicial process.”

“Sentencing three professional journalists to years in prison on the basis of zero evidence of wrongdoing shows how Egypt’s judges have been caught up in the anti-Muslim Brotherhood hysteria fostered by President al-Sisi,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Egypt is punishing people for exercising basic rights that are essential to any democratic transition, and US legislation requires progress on those rights before the Obama administration can certify additional military aid.”

The Al Jazeera English bureau chief, Mohamed Fahmy, a dual Canadian-Egypt national, and a correspondent, Peter Greste, an Australian, were each sentenced to seven years in prison, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian, was sentenced to 10 years. The charges included editing video footage to falsely “give the appearance Egypt is in a civil war,” operating broadcast equipment without a license, and membership in and support for a “terrorist organization.” Human Rights Watch reviewed the material prosecutors presented in court and spoke with independent observers who monitored the trial and found no evidence indicating any criminal wrongdoing. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: Evidence provided by the prosecution included footage from channels and events with nothing to do with Egyptian politics or al-Jazeera. It included videos of trotting horses from Sky News Arabia, a song by the Australian singer Gotye, and a BBC documentary from Somalia.

Mohamed Lotfy, executive director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms who has observed every session of the trial for Amnesty, said the verdict sent a chilling message to all opposition figures in Egypt.

“It’s a warning to all journalists that they could one day face a similar trial and conviction simply for carrying out their official duties,” Lotfy said. “This feeds into a wider picture of a politicised judiciary and the use of trials to crack down on all opposition voices.”

The verdict came a day after the US secretary of state, John Kerry, signalled that ties between America and Egypt were inching closer to normality.

After a 90-minute meeting with Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the former general who was elected president last month, Kerry told reporters that a delivery of attack helicopters – delayed by the US last year, in protest against Egyptian human rights abuses – would go ahead.

“The Apaches will come, and they’ll come very, very soon,” Kerry said, after an earlier admission by state department officials that all but $70m (£41m) of a $650m aid package to Egypt had been released. [Continue reading…]


Al Jazeera trial: Defendants denounce ‘joke’ hearing

BBC News reports: Three al-Jazeera journalists have denounced as a “joke” the latest hearing in their trial on terrorism charges in Egypt.

On Thursday, prosecutors presented as evidence footage allegedly filmed by the defendants, including wildlife scenes and news conference.

The men, including ex-BBC reporter Peter Greste, have been held since December. They deny the charges.

The case has been condemned by rights groups and media around the world.


Egypt’s Al Jazeera trial was inspired by America’s global war on journalism

Rozina Ali writes: Today, Egypt resumes its trial of the three al-Jazeera journalists it has held in captivity since December on the grounds that their coverage threatened national security. Media outlets, advocacy groups and foreign governments – including the United States – have all condemned the arrests and criticized the proceedings as a bold political move to suppress opposition.

Indeed, even as Washington keeps its distance from the upcoming election, the State Department has insisted upon “the free expression of political views without intimidation or fear of retribution”. Last month, the US, along with other signatories, filed a declaration through the United Nations condemning Egypt for its violent suppression of dissent, including against journalists.

But the brazen political rhetoric out of Cairo continues: that al-Jazeera’s Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed are guilty of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood, that the Brotherhood is a terror group, and that counter-terror policy is crucial to democracy at all costs – even at the cost of a free press, that beating heart of democracy.

This rhetoric is not new. Egypt seems to draw inspiration from the very country criticizing it – the United States.

Over the past decade, the US not only detained but tortured al-Jazeera journalists under counterterrorism policies. Now, as its War on Terror diffuses into support for an increasing number of local – and secret – wars on terrorism across the globe, the tactic of imprisoning journalists seems to be catching on. [Continue reading…]


The Dahlan factor

The article, “The Dahlan Factor,” appeared for several hours on the Al Jazeera website on Monday only to be removed without explanation. Ali Abunimah has reposted the complete article at Electronic Intifada.

Joseph Massad writes: The recent resurrection of Mohammad Dahlan by several Arab governments, Israel and the US is a most important development for the future of the Palestinian cause, Palestinian Authority (PA)-Israel negotiations, and Hamas-ruled Gaza. Dahlan is viewed, by many Palestinians, as the most corrupt official in the history of the Palestinian national movement (and there are many contenders for that title).

Dahlan, it would be recalled, was the PA man in charge of Gaza after the Oslo Accords were signed, where he commanded 20,000 Palestinian security personnel who were answerable to the CIA and to Israeli intelligence. His forces would torture Hamas members in PA dungeons throughout the 1990s.

His corruption, at the time, was such that he allegedly diverted over 40 percent of taxes levied against the Palestinians to his personal account in what became known as the Karni Crossing Scandal in 1997.

Dahlan, who has been accused repeatedly by both Hamas and Fatah of being an agent of US, Israeli, Egyptian, and Jordanian intelligence, would attempt to stage a US-organised coup against the democratically elected Hamas government in 2007 in Gaza, an attempt that backfired on him and ended with his eviction from the Strip (I had forewarned about the coup several months before it occurred). [Continue reading…]


Al Jazeera trial: prosecution presents contents of journalists’ hotel rooms

The Guardian reports: The second day of the trial of three al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt descended into farce on Wednesday when prosecutors presented the entire contents of their raided hotel rooms as evidence, and another co-defendant said he did not understand what the trial was about.

Australian ex-BBC correspondent Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian ex-CNN journalist Mohamed Fahmy, and local producer Baher Mohamed are among 20 people on trial in Egypt on charges of spreading misinformation and aiding terrorists. The case has sparked international outcry, and been portrayed worldwide as a serious attack on Egyptian press freedom.

But the case took a tragicomic turn when prosecutors presented box after box of everyday items and broadcast equipment as evidence of the defendants’ alleged terrorism – many as innocuous as electric cables, a computer keyboard, and a bumbag belonging to Peter Greste.

At one point judge Mohamed Nagy lost count of the number of cameras he had been shown, and struggled to open two of the suitcases in which the evidence was contained. Throughout the proceedings, two birds trapped inside the courtroom flew overhead. [Continue reading…]


Egypt’s crackdown on journalism

a13-iconThe New York Times reports: The three men, wearing white prison scrubs in metal cages reserved for criminal suspects, listened to the list of explosive charges accusing them of aiding a plot to undermine Egypt’s national security.

They had links to terrorists, the prosecutors contended, and before their court appearance on Thursday, the men were detained for weeks among prisoners whom the government considers its most dangerous opponents. The charges could bring up to 15 years in prison.

But the three suspects are all seasoned journalists. Their crime was filing news reports for their employer, Al Jazeera English, before state security officers came to the hotel suite they used as a makeshift studio in December, ultimately rounding them up and throwing them in jail.

The charges against the men, branded the “the Marriott cell” by government-friendly news outlets, are the most serious against journalists here in recent memory, rights groups say, part of a widening crackdown by Egypt’s military-backed government that has ensnared scores of reporters, as well as filmmakers, bloggers and academics.

What began months ago with mass arrests and repression of the government’s opponents in the Muslim Brotherhood has steadily broadened into a campaign against perceived critics of all stripes. In all, thousands of people — mostly Islamists, but also some of the best-known activists from the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak — have been put in jail, many of them still awaiting trial. [Continue reading…]


Tony Blair backs Egypt’s military and criticises Brotherhood

NewsThe Guardian reports: Tony Blair has given staunch backing to Egypt’s government following a meeting on Wednesday with its army leader, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.

In a television interview on Thursday morning, Britain’s former prime minister said Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood had stolen Egypt’s revolution, and the army who deposed him last July had put the country back on the path to democracy.

“This is what I say to my colleagues in the west,” said Blair, visiting Egypt as a representative of the UN, the US, the EU and Russia in their attempts to mediate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. “The fact is, the Muslim Brotherhood tried to take the country away from its basic values of hope and progress. The army have intervened, at the will of the people, but in order to take the country to the next stage of its development, which should be democratic. We should be supporting the new government in doing that.” [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Egyptian prosecutors said on Wednesday that they were charging 20 journalists working for the Al Jazeera television network with conspiring with a terrorist group and broadcasting false images of “a civil war that raises alarms about the state’s collapse.”

The charges are the latest turn in a widening clampdown on public dissent by the military-backed government that ousted President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood six months ago. The government has outlawed the Brotherhood, declared it a terrorist organization, jailed its leaders and killed more than a thousand of its supporters in the streets. Foreign Ministry and state information service officials say that they cannot be certain whether merely publishing an interview with a Brotherhood representative may now be a crime. [Continue reading…]


A Canadian journalist is in an Egyptian jail and nobody seems to care

NewsVice reports: If there’s anything that usually galvanizes journalists, it’s the mistreatment of one of their own. But more than a month after an Al Jazeera journalist was arrested in Egypt for “broadcasting false news,” most Canadians are probably still unaware of Mohamed Fahmy’s case.

Fahmy was the acting Cairo bureau chief when he was arrested Dec. 29 along with Australian correspondent Peter Greste and producer Bader Mohammed. Egyptian by birth, Fahmy was raised in Montreal, has previously worked for the New York Times and CNN and is, by any definition, a respected mainstream journalist, not some ink-stained pamphleteer looking for trouble.

So far, neither Prime Minister Stephen Harper nor Foreign Minister John Baird have said a word about the Canadian citizen currently being held in deplorable conditions abroad. Even journalists have largely ignored the case, with only a handful of reports written about Fahmy in the first weeks of his imprisonment.

Prosecutors have yet to formally lay charges against the three journalists and on Jan. 22 their detention was extended by 15 days, which Fahmy’s family says has left them feeling helpless.

“We have contacted the Canadian government and pressured them to take action, hired one of the best lawyers in town, reached out to the media, reached out to the human rights groups, contacted friends working with the Egyptian authorities, etc,” Mohamed’s brother Sherif wrote in an email to me on Monday. “After all this we are back to square one again.” [Continue reading…]