As the verdict of the Al Jazeera trial spiralled into a multitude of negative responses, the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) released a statement noting Egypt’s lack of respect for its commitment to press freedom.
The statement, co-written with Journalists Against Torture and released on Monday on its website, also highlighted that the defendants were not treated as journalists, instead they were referred to as a terrorism circuit and were accused of criminal charges, including aiding a terrorist organisation.
The Al Jazeera trial verdict, also known as the “the Marriott Cell” verdict, and which has sparked widespread indignation, followed the case of the three Al Jazeera journalists who were detained in 2014 for “spreading false news” according to Egypt’s High Court.
The three journalists were originally sentenced in July 2014, with Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian/Canadian Mohamed Fahmy receiving a sentence of seven years in prision and Egyptian Baher Mohamed receiving 10 years.
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi issued on 12 November, 2014, a decree permitting the deportation of foreign convicts back to their country. Greste was then deported back to Australia and was tried again in absentia.
The latest verdict in the trial prompted former-Al Jazeera journalist Fahmy to drop his Egyptian nationality. Fahmy, now tried as a full Canadian citizen, was ordered to pay EGP 250,000 in bail, while he seeks deportation back to Canada or a presidential pardon, with the help of humans right attorney Amal Clooney.
The AFTE criticised the fact that Baher will go back to prison because he has no other nationalities. “Baher faces a double penalty compared to the other defendants; for performing his job, and for being Egyptian,” the statement read.
The statement also alluded to and discredited the multiple allegations made against the journalists, who have been accused of aiding a “terrorist organisation” since 23 June, 2014.
The AFTE, which believes press freedom to be “an essential feature of society’s development, pillar of democracy and important mean of self-expression”, also recalled Egypt’s commitment and obligations to make it a practical reality.
The statement noted Egypt’s commitment to freedom of the press in international obligations, as well as the Egyptian Constitution and under the Press Law (No. 96/1996) which stipulated in Article 7 that “information spread by the journalist or his opinion should not be used as a tool to intercede with his security”.
Moreover, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which upholds the belief that all have the right to freedom of expression and that it may be subject to certain restrictions only when necessary, was mentioned.
Although Al-Sisi had previously said that he would have preferred the extradition of the Al Jazeera journalists rather than the trial during his meetings with Egyptian national and private newspapers, he stressed that he does not interfere in the decisions of the judiciary.
The AFTE ended its statement with a call to take “serious steps towards the liberalisation of the freedom of press workspaces”.
Reporting by Sara Ahmed