VIENNA: Members of the International Press Institute (IPI)’s Executive Board today in an open letter to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi expressed outrage at the lengthy sentences handed out this week to three Al Jazeera journalists behind bars in Egypt as well as sentences pronounced against six other journalists in absentia.
Calling the sentences “unjustifiable”, the IPI Executive Board said that prosecutors failed to provide relevant evidence in court to support accusations that journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed aired false news and aided the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation banned in Egypt.
Reminding Egypt of its constitutional and international obligations to respect the right to freedom of expression, IPI urged El-Sisi to immediately grant a full presidential pardon to all journalists convicted in Egypt in connection with their work.
The full text of the letter appears below.
Abdel Fattah El-Sisi
President of the Arab Republic of Egypt
Vienna, June 26, 2014
Re: Conviction and Sentencing of Al Jazeera Journalists
As members of the Executive Board of the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of leading publishers, editors and journalists, we are deeply concerned by the recent convictions and sentencing of three Al Jazeera journalists currently imprisoned in Egypt, as well as by six other sentences pronounced against journalists in absentia.
Three well-respected journalists – Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed – have been held in Egyptian custody for the past nine months. On Monday, Greste and Fahmy were sentenced to prison terms of seven years and Mohamed was sentenced to 10 years behind bars. These sentences are unjustifiable, with no real evidence having been presented in court proceedings.
Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed were charged with broadcasting fabricated news reports and assisting the Muslim Brotherhood in spreading negative propaganda critical of the Egyptian state. It is worth noting that Egypt declared the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization only days before the journalists’ arrest.
Furthermore, when asked to provide evidence in court, the prosecution did not present anything relevant. Instead, they submitted unrelated evidence including personal photos from family vacation and previous news reports filmed in other countries, as well as a news report apparently made when none of the journalists were in Egypt.
We would like to remind Your Excellency that Egypt has signed and ratified international human rights treaties – including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – that include clear provisions requiring states to ensure respect of the right to freedom of expression. The imprisonment and lengthy sentence of Al Jazeera journalists – and any other journalist currently jailed in Egypt for their work – is a clear violation of international commitments.
Furthermore, in January 2014, Egyptian voters approved an amended Constitution which includes strong guarantees for freedom of expression and bans government interference in the news media. This is a clear expression of the will of the people in Egypt to live in a country where their fundamental liberties are respected and their right to know is not limited under the pretext of too-broadly understood anti-state charges.
We believe that the ability of foreign and local news media to freely cover important political developments in Egypt is an essential part of building a more stable and democratic Egypt. A free press, both local and foreign, is an essential safeguard for the protection of the democratic rights of the people. Actions aimed at silencing critical media, such as the egregious sentences handed down on June 23, undercut assertions that Egypt has embraced democracy and they constitute a serious blemish on the country’s record.
Accordingly, we urge you and all authorities in Egypt to abide by the new constitutional protections regarding press freedom and freedom of expression.
With this letter, we join a multitude of voices – including those of governments, human rights groups, journalists and private citizens – in urging Your Excellency to immediately grant a full presidential pardon to all journalists sentenced in Egypt in connection with their work.
Galina Sidorova, Chairperson, Foundation for Investigative Journalism – Foundation 19/29, Russia
IPI Vice Chairs
Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul, Editor-in-Chief & CEO, Boishakhi TV, Bangladesh
Ken MacQuarrie, Director, BBC Scotland, UK
John Yearwood, World Editor, The Miami Herald, USA
IPI Executive Board Members
Owais Aslam Ali, Chairman, Pakistan Press International (PPI), Pakistan
George Brock, Professor and Head of Journalism, City University, UK
Carl-Eugen Eberle, Former Director of Legal Affairs, ZDF German Television, Germany
Michael Ehrenreich, Editor, Denmark
Sami El Haj, Head, Human Rights and Public Liberties Desk, Al Jazeera Media Network, Qatar
Linus Gitahi, Group CEO, Nation Media Group, Kenya
Daniel Hadad, CEO, Grupo Infobae, Argentina
Ferial Haffajee, Editor-in-Chief, City Press, South Africa
Tom Hetland, Editor, Stavanger Aftenblad, Norway
Daoud Kuttab, Director General, Community Media Network; Founder, AmmanNet, Jordan
Pavol Múdry, Founder and Former General Manager, SITA-Slovak News Agency, Slovakia
Umud Mirzayev, Chairman, International Eurasia Press Fund (IEPF), Azerbaijan
Kaius Niemi, Senior Editor-in-Chief, Helsingin Sanomat, Sanoma Media, Finland
N. Ravi, Editor-in-Chief and Director, The Hindu, India
Martha Steffens, Professor, SABEW Chair in Business and Financial Reporting, University of Missouri School of Journalism, USA
Dawn Thomas, Chief Executive Officer, One Caribbean Media Ltd., Trinidad & Tobago
Ferai Tinç, Former Foreign Editor and Columnist, Hürriyet, Turkey
Toshihiko Uji, Advisor, Chunichi Shimbun, Japan
Kabiru Yusuf, Chairman, Media Trust Ltd, Nigeria