The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum have strongly condemned Monday’s sentencing of three Al Jazeera journalists to years of imprisonment on terrorism-related charges.
The convicted journalists are Al Jazeera English journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed sentenced to between seven and ten years for allegedly spreading false news and of aiding a banned terrorist organization, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Australian journalist Peter Greste and Cairo Bureau Chief, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, who has dual Egyptian/Canadian nationality, were both sentenced to seven years in prison, while Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed was sentenced to ten years.
Mohamed bagged an additional three years for being in possession of ammunition – a spent bullet casing he had found on the ground during a protest.
Other Al Jazeera journalists who were tried in absentia, including Sue Turton and Dominic Kane, were sentenced to 10 years.
According to news reports, today’s verdicts came despite evidence that bore little relation to the serious charges that were levied against the journalists.
WAN-IFRA which represent more than 18,000 titles and 15,000 online news sites worldwide, has called on the recently elected Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to take all necessary steps to immediately revoke the sentences.
“We are disappointed and outraged at this judgement. It is an abhorrent abuse of press freedom principles. These journalists have been jailed for simply doing their jobs and journalism is not a crime,” said WAN-IFRA secretary general, Larry Kilman.
In a letter to President Sisi, the media organisations reminded the Egyptian leader that prosecuting journalists for carrying out their profession constituted a clear breach of the right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the Egyptian constitution and numerous international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“For democratic governments to equate journalism with terrorist activities when challenged on transparency, accountability or national security issues is highly irresponsible and sends a deplorable message that human rights are not protected,” the bodies stated.
The group also expressed fear that the verdict will severely damage the public perception of the role of the media and the status of professional journalists.
“The message it sends to the Egyptian public, and to the wider international community, is that Egypt is closed off to debate and criticism and that freedom of expression has no place in the new society,” the letter to the President said.
WAN-IFRA said it remains deeply concerned by a rising global trend that has seen growing numbers of journalists imprisoned for supposed links to terrorist activities.
It said over half of the 211 journalists recorded in the 2013 Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, prison census were jailed on anti-state charges, citing WAN-IFRA’s 2014 Golden Pen of Freedom laureate, Eskinder Nega, an Ethiopian journalist sentenced to 18 years in prison for supposed terrorism-related activities.
WAN-IFRA, based in Paris, France, and Darmstadt, Germany, with subsidiaries in Singapore and India, is the global organisation of the world’s newspapers and news publishers.
It represents more than 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries. Its core mission is to defend and promote press freedom, quality journalism and editorial integrity and the development of prosperous businesses.