Free detained journalists in Egypt
Demonstrating for press freedom at Egyptian embassy - © Ken Colbourne
Defending press freedom - © Ken Colbourne
20 February 2014
"Drop the preposterous charges against journalists detained in Egypt" was the robust message delivered by a NUJ-delegation to the country's embassy in London.
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, and Jeremy Corbyn MP, spent 40 minutes with Ashraf Elkholy, the Egyptian ambassador, as they delivered a letter from the union expressing its concern about the "arrests and brutal attacks used to attempt to silence journalists and prevent them from doing their job".
Protesters and the press gathered outside the embassy in London on the eve of the trial of four journalists in Cairo.
Al Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohammed have been detained by the Egyptian authorities since 29 December. Their colleague, Abdullah Al-Shami, has been detained since 14 August and is in the third week of a hunger-strike. Earlier this month the Egyptian authorities published a list of 20 journalists, accusing them of aiding terrorists while working in the country. Of the 20, nine are Al Jazeera staff.
The trial of three Al Jazeera English journalists in Egypt was adjourned until 5 March after they appeared in court in Cairo and pleaded not guilty to all charges against them. Al Jazeera report
Michelle Stanistreet said:
"We told the ambassador of our outrage at the treatment of journalists in his country. We said that we expect the preposterous charges made against the four journalists, which could lead to 15 years in jail, to be thrown out and for them to be freed.
"In addition to our four colleagues from Al Jazeera on trial tomorrow, all journalists trying to cover an important story critical to Egypt's history are being targeted. Six have been killed covering events, others have been injured, imprisoned or had their equipment confiscated.
"All journalists working in the country at the moment are facing a crackdown which is stopping them from doing their job well. It's an incredible testament to all journalists that they are carrying on in the face of increasing pressure that is stopping them from carrying out their work."
Free our journalist colleagues in Egypt Michelle Stanistreet's blog
Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, said:
"It should be the right of every journalist to be able to report independently and in safety in every country they work in. The freedom of journalists is an integral part of any democratic process. I would like to think that tomorrow the judge will stand up for the independence of the judiciary and show that there is judicial system independent of police and political interference and conclude that the charges are ludicrous.
"This is important because, to make a stand on what is happening in Egypt is also about making a stand in other countries, such as Colombia and Mexico, where journalists are under attack."
He said that he had had assurances from the Foreign Office that it would take up this issue with the Egyptian government.
Award-winning correspondent Sue Turton – who worked for Sky News, ITN and Channel 4 before joining Al Jazeera – is among those on the list of 20 journalists named by the Egyptian authorities. She joined a demonstration at the Egyptian embassy this morning calling for an end to the trials and charges.
Sue Turton thanked the NUJ for organising the event. She said:
“I am astounded that a warrant is out for my arrest because of my reporting in Egypt last year. I didn’t treat the situation there any differently to every other story I’ve reported on in almost 25 years as a TV reporter. I have no allegiance to any political group in Egypt or anywhere else and no desire to promote any one point of view.”
Michelle Stanistreet, Jeremy Corbyn and Sue Turton (Picture: Ken Colbourne)
The trial comes at a time when journalists are under increasing attack in Egypt. The Egypt Journalists’ Syndicate publicly condemned the interior ministry recently after reporters covering protests in Cairo were assaulted and their equipment seized – some were even shot at with live ammunition and 19 journalists were arrested in a single day.
Senior television executives have signed an open letter urging the Egyptian authorities to free those due to go on trial tomorrow. The signatories included: James Hardy, the BBC's director of news and current affairs, his deputy, Fran Unsworth; John Hardie, ITN's chief executive; John Ryley, the head of Sky News; John Pullman, global editor at Reuters; Deborah Turness, president of NBC News and Jon Williams, managing editor of international news at ABC News.
A message of support came from Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary, who said:
"The TUC stands in solidarity with our colleagues in the NUJ and journalists and trade unionists in Egypt. We believe in freedom of association and assembly, freedom of expression and free speech. Those are trade union values, as well as fundamental human rights, and there can be no justice without them. I call on the authorities in Egypt to set our fellow workers free and allow journalists to carry out their work unhindered and without fear or favour."
John McDonnell MP, secretary of the NUJ parliamentary group, said:
"The treatment of journalists in Egypt represents a deeply concerning violation of human rights and press freedom. We call on the Egyptian ambassador to urge the authorities in Cairo to release the detained journalists at the earliest opportunity. The NUJ parliamentary group will do all we can to raise the profile of this case in the British parliament and beyond. We stand in solidarity with journalists worldwide who must be free to do their jobs without facing violence and repression."
Jim Boumelha, International Federation of Journalists' president, said:
"The eyes of all those who value press freedom and democracy are on Egypt this week as this preposterous trial commences. Journalists everywhere recognise that silencing reporters, photographers and camera people is one of the first actions of any repressive regime. If the Egyptian government wants to regain any respect in the international community it must halt these trials now and free our colleagues."