Harsh prison sentences handed down today to three Al-Jazeera (English) journalists must be overturned and the journalists freed immediately, PEN International said today.
Correspondent Peter Greste, and producers Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohammed were sentenced to seven, seven and ten years respectively on charges of having links to a “terrorist organisation” and “spreading false news”.
PEN International believes that their arrest and imprisonment is part of an escalating crackdown on dissent in Egypt, in which journalists, writers, civil rights activists, and independent or critical voices are amongst those targeted for their reporting or peaceful activism.
“These sentences signal a death knell for freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary in Egypt” said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.
“The international community must respond swiftly, not only on behalf of foreign journalists, but on behalf of the citizens of Egypt, for whom democracy is in grave danger.”
Al Jazeera correspondent Peter Greste, an Australian national, Mohammed Fahmy, who has dual Canadian and Egyptian nationality, and Egyptian national Baher Mohamed were arrested on 29 December 2013 following Interior Ministry accusations of illegally broadcasting from a hotel suite.
Peter Greste, who has worked for the BBC, is accused of collaborating with “terrorists” by talking to Muslim Brotherhood members. Al-Jazeera Cairo bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy and producer Baher Mohamed are accused of the more serious offence of membership of the Brotherhood.
Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based TV channel, has said the men were merely reporting the situation in Egypt. Since 25 December 2013 the Egyptian authorities have labelled the Muslim Brotherhood – the political group that the Al-Jazeera journalists are accused of supporting- as a terrorist group.
According to diplomats and rights campaigners who observed the trial, no credible evidence was put forward to support the verdict. The three journalists are planning to appeal their convictions.
PEN calls on Egypt’s interim government to immediately and unconditionally release all those held solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, in accordance with the international treaties to which it is bound.