CAIRO: Global rights groups have condemned Egypt’s decision to try journalists working for Al Jazeera television, which Cairo accuses of backing the Muslim Brotherhood ousted from power by the military in July.
Doha-based Al Jazeera, which has angered the new authorities for its coverage of a deadly crackdown on the Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohammed Mursi, says the charges are “silly and not based on any reality”.
Prosecutors say they have referred to trial 20 journalists, accusing them of portraying Egypt as being in a state of “civil war” and “airing false news”.
They include 16 Egyptians, two of whom have been in jail since the summer, and four foreigners — Australian Peter Greste, two Britons and a Dutch woman.
If convicted, the foreigners could face up to seven years in jail and the Egyptians 15. Officials say the defendants were operating without official accreditation.
Amnesty International Secretary-General Salil Shetty said the decision to prosecute “sends the chilling message that only one narrative is acceptable in Egypt today — which is sanctioned by the Egyptian authorities.
“Journalists cannot operate freely in a climate of fear. The latest development is a brazen attempt to stifle independent reporting in Egypt.”
Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said since Mursi’s fall, the authorities have “hounded journalists suspected of direct or indirect links with the Brotherhood”.
On July 3, the day Mursi was deposed, authorities closed Misr 25 television, operated by the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood’s political arm. It also shut three TV stations supporting Mursi — Al Hafiz, Al Nas and Rahma.
Two months later, Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr, the Cairo-based affiliate of Al Jazeera, was declared illegal and forbidden to operate. And since Mursi’s ouster, foreign journalists have often faced mobs of angry Brotherhood opponents.
Reporters Without Borders said it was “stunned and appalled” by the move to try Al Jazeera journalists.
“It is just deepening the divisions in Egypt’s increasingly polarised society and is bringing further discredit to the authorities in the eyes of the international public opinion,” it said.
Washington also criticised Cairo. “The government’s targeting of journalists and others on spurious claims is wrong and demonstrates an egregious disregard for the protection of basic rights and freedoms,” said US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
But Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty dismissed that criticism.
It is “unacceptable that a state or a foreign party interferes in the affairs of the Egyptian judiciary which is transparent and independent”, he said. AFP