Egyptian court sentences two Al Jazeera employees to death

The Associated Press reports: An Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced six people, including two Al-Jazeera employees, to death for allegedly passing documents related to national security to Qatar and the Doha-based TV network during the rule of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

Morsi, the top defendant, and two of his aides were sentenced to 25 years in prison for membership in the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood group but were acquitted of espionage, a capital offense. Morsi and his secretary, Amin el-Sirafy, each received an additional 15-year sentence for leaking official documents. El-Sirafy’s daughter, Karima, was also sentenced to 15 years on the same charge.

Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected leader, was ousted by the military in July 2013 and has already been sentenced to death in another case. That death sentence and another two – life and 20 years in prison – are under appeal. The Brotherhood was banned and declared a terrorist organization after his ouster. Khalid Radwan, a producer at a Brotherhood-linked TV channel, received a 15-year prison sentence. [Continue reading…]

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Al Jazeera to shut down American news channel

The Wall Street Journal reports: When Al Jazeera America was launched to great fanfare in 2013, its then-leader boasted he didn’t have to worry too much about profits.

After all, the cable news channel was backed by the oil-and-gas-rich government of Qatar, and oil was trading around $100 a barrel.

On Wednesday, with oil trading near $30, Al Jazeera made an about-face, announcing it was shutting its American cable channel by April 30 for economic reasons.

“The economic landscape of the media environment has driven its strategic decision to wind down its operations and conclude its service,” wrote Al Anstey, an Al Jazeera executive who took over as chief executive of the American channel in May after its founding CEO was ousted in the wake of discrimination suits.

Charles Herring, president of Herring Broadcasting Co., which runs the conservative One America News Network, said his company is interested in buying the channel because of its valuable affiliation agreements. One America is currently available is about a quarter as many homes as Al Jazeera America and would like to put its channel in this wider footprint, he said. A spokesman for Al Jazeera declined to comment. Trade publication Multichannel News earlier reported Herring’s interest.

Partly as a result of its weak negotiating position, Al Jazeera America was forced to stop streaming Al Jazeera English online in the U.S., which had helped it build influence thanks to its close-up coverage of the Arab Spring. It was a condition of its deals with distributors, who are never fans of paying for channels that also put their content online free.

As part of its announcement on Wednesday, Al Jazeera said it will now “expand its existing international digital services to broaden its multiplatform presence in the United States.” [Continue reading…]

Hopefully this means the return of full online access to Al Jazeera English programming. Stay tuned…

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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.

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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…]

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Journalists under attack around the world

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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…]

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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…]

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