Abdulrahim Shaheen, a reporter who works Al-Jazeera and for two newspapers – Al-Hurriya wa Al-Adala and Misr 25 – was arrested by national security police yesterday on charges of “membership of a terrorist group,” “inciting hatred” and “spreading false information.”
At the same time in Cairo, the trial of 20 Al-Jazeera journalists was adjourned for the fifth time after another hearing today.
Journalists continue to be exposed to arbitrary arrest although the new Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and opinion (article 65), freedom of the press (article 70) and media independence (article 72).
The Egyptian authorities have clearly not appreciated Al-Jazeera’s coverage of demonstrations in support of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. On 3 September the Administrative Chamber of the Council of State ordered the closure of Al-Jazeera’s Egyptian station.
The 20 Al-Jazeera journalists are charged with “undermining national unity and social peace,” “broadcasting false information” and “membership of a terrorist organization.” Eight of the 20 have been arrested while the other 12 are being tried in absentia.
The prosecutor’s office has not named the detained journalists but, since 29 December, they have included Cairo bureau chief Mohamed Adel Fahmy, who has Canadian and Egyptian dual citizenship, Baher Mohamed, who is Egyptian, and Peter Greste, who is Australian.
Greste is accused of “collaborating with the Egyptian defendants by providing them with money, equipment and information (…) and broadcasting false reports designed to give the impression to the outside world that there was a civil war.”
In a show of solidarity, many journalists gathered outside BBC headquarters in London on 7 April, their 100th day in detention.
Reporters Without Borders condemns the way the Egyptian authorities are persecuting journalists. They should respect the principles enshrined in the new constitution, especially in article 71, which prohibits jail sentences in media cases.
Another Al-Jazeera journalist, Abdullah Al-Shami, has been held since 14 August without any charge being brought against him. He began a hunger strike on 23 January in protest against his arbitrary detention, and has so far reportedly lost 30 kilos in weight.
When Reporters Without Borders reached his brother, Mohamed Al-Shami, by telephone, he said he was “very worried” about his health. He said his brother “has seen a doctor only three times since his arrest” and “his health has deteriorated considerably.”
In an open letter that Mohamed al-Shami gave to Reporters Without Borders, the detained journalist writes:
“My name is Abdullah Al-Shami. I have already lived a quarter-century of my life, of which eight months between four walls where every day is the same as the previous one and the next one. There is no tomorrow here, no novelty. Eighty days have passed since the start of my hunger strike and I will not give up before achieving my goal of being released.My story is not a unique one. It is the story of all those who thirst for the freedom of information that is guaranteed in the laws. Not far from this cell, a door without a barrier or a guard will open and I will look up with confidence and firm determination. I am not a criminal nor a militia member. I am a journalist, and journalism is not a crime.”
Fahmy’s health is also worrying. He has a shoulder injury that has not been treated properly and he can no longer move his right arm. His family wrote to acting President Adly Mansour requesting his release so that he can get appropriate treatment.