An Egyptian court refused bail last Monday to three al-Jazeera journalists arrested in late 2013. The court’s decision, and a one-day strike by Egyptian reporters on Friday, highlights the government’s attempts to influence Egyptian media during unrest following President Mohamed Morsi’s overthrow.
Egyptian authorities detained the three journalists, including Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Australian Peter Greste, in their Cairo hotel room last December. Prosecutors contend that the group spread false reports in support of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, and thereby endangered national security. Even after the defendants addressed the judges in the case, an unusual scene in an Egyptian courtroom, further hearings were delay again until later this month.
Journalists and photojournalists demonstrate in front of the journalist’s syndicate in Cairo against repeated attacks on members of the press in Egypt on 4 April 2014. (Photo: AFP)
Seventeen other al-Jazeera journalists have been accused of terrorism-related activities by the Egyptian government; two other Westerners will also be tried in absentia. Five local Egyptians working for the Qatar-based news channel also appeared in the courtroom last Monday. Egypt’s military controlled government has accused Qatar of giving wider support to the Muslim Brotherhood, leading to recently strained relations between the two countries.
Journalists also took the streets of Cairo on Friday, protesting government intimidation and recent acts of violence against their colleagues. Egyptians called on the government to help protect reporters after a correspondent was shot and killed while covering a protest rally on March 28. Internationally, reporters in the Middle East and Europe have voiced their support for Egyptian journalists. Organizers gathered in London, Berlin and Beirut to protest the detained al-Jazeera employees and on Twitter using #FreeAJStaff.
The U.S. government has also strongly condemned the Egyptian government’s detention of al-Jazeera staff. In January, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “the government’s targeting of journalists … demonstrates an egregious disregard for the protection of basic rights and freedoms.” But as pro-Brotherhood unrest continues before Presidential elections in May, it remains unclear if the security forces will change their oppressive tactics.