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Journalists Demand Release of Colleagues Detained in Egypt

  • Zlatica Hoke

Journalists around the world are expressing outrage at Egyptian authorities for detaining several journalists and charging them with terrorist activities. Protests of solidarity with the detained Canadian, Australian and Egyptian reporters have taken place in many Western countries, but also in places like Gaza, Mauritania and Yemen. The United States has urged Egypt to release all detained journalists.

Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were detained on December 29 while reporting on unrest in Cairo for Qatari-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera. Egyptian authorities have accused them of belonging to and aiding a terrorist organization. Outraged colleagues see it as an attack on journalism as a profession. Andrew Thomas, an Al-Jazeera reporter in Sydney, Australia, said the charges are a threat to journalists everywhere.

"This, then, is not an assault on three men. It's an assault on journalism as a whole, and as our T-shirts say, as this banner says, journalism is not a crime," said Thomas.

Egyptian authorities said the journalists were arrested as part of a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that supports ousted president Mohammed Morsi. The group staged massive protests seeking Morsi's return to power, before the new government sent armed forces to disperse protesters.

Namik Kocak, a representative of the Turkish media, said journalists often are considered a threat.

"Journalists are seen as taking sides whereas we don't. We're on the streets to deliver news to people in an independent way. In this regard journalism is dangerous. There are people risking their lives, their health," said Kocak.

Al-Jazeera has called for worldwide support for its push to obtain the journalists' release. The head of Al-Jazeera's public relations, Ossama Al Saeed, said the response has been overwhelming.

"What we've been seeing over a number of weeks has been massive support around the world for our journalists to be freed by the Egyptian authorities, and there's a further ramp up today. There is action taking place in over 30 countries," said Al Saeed.

The United States has repeatedly urged governments to protect journalists and punish those who harm them. White House spokesman Jay Carney called on Cairo to release all detained journalists.

"We remain deeply concerned about the ongoing lack of freedom of expression and press freedoms in Egypt. The government's targeting of journalists and others on questionable claims is wrong and it demonstrates an egregious disregard for the protection of basic rights and freedoms. All journalists, regardless of affiliation, must not be targets of violence, intimidation or politicized legal action," said Carney.

Rights groups say journalism is one of the world's most dangerous professions. According to the advocacy group Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 70 media members were killed last year, most of them in Syria. In addition to those killed in armed conflicts, journalists have been persecuted, harassed, tortured and even killed for writing critical articles about people and institutions in power.
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