Australian union calls for Egypt pardon to be extended

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) in cautiously welcoming the Presidential pardon for two journalists in prison overnight. The IFJ and MEAA remain concerned at the uncertainty surrounding the status of Australian journalist Peter Greste and call on the Egyptian government to immediately clarify his status.

On September 23, Al Jazeera journalists, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, who were jailed last month following a retrial for reporting false news, were freed from an Egyptian prison after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi suddenly issued a presidential pardon for 100 prisoners. Following their release, Fahmy and Baher were dropped off by authorities in the Cario suburb of Maadi, where they met with their families. The status of Australian-Al Jazeera journalist, Peter Greste remains unclear. His name was not on the Presidential pardon list; however the list did include a ‘third person’ from Al Jazeera.

In 2013, Fahmy, Baher, Greste and their cameraman Mohamed Fawzy were arrested in their Mariott Hotel room in Cairo on December 29. While Fawzy, was released within a month, reporter Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian producer Mohamad Fahmy, and Al Jazeera’s second producer Egyptian Baher Mohamed were all subsequently charged with "distorting the country's image abroad" and "fabricating news to aid the Muslim Brotherhood," which the government has declared a terrorist organization. Later in 2013, they were charged and Fahmy and Greste were sentenced to seven years in jail while Baher was sentenced to 10 years.

On February 2, 2015, Peter Greste was released from prison after 400 days and deported to Australia. A few days later, Fahmy and Baher were also released on bail, but had to remain in Egypt. On August 29, following a retrial, Greste, Fahmy and Baher were sentenced to three years in prison for working without a press license, broadcasting material damaging to Egypt, and for having ties to the blacklisted Muslim brotherhood. Greste was charged in absentia, while Fahmy and Baher were sent back to prison.

MEAA CEO Paul Murphy said: “While we are obviously delighted that Peter’s colleagues have finally won their freedom 633 days after they were arrested in Cairo for simply doing their job as journalists, we are concerned that any conviction that still hangs over Peter Greste is not only unfair but also severely impedes his ability to work and travel. We are also concerned that there are another six journalists who were tried in absentia who also have convictions against their names and who also face impediments when it comes to working overseas. And we still hold grave fears for the many journalists, believed to be as many as 18, still detained in Egypt for no other reason than their journalism – many held without charge and repeatedly denied bail,” Murphy said.

“Journalism is not a crime. We have seen in the two trials of our Al Jazeera colleagues that no evidence was ever produced that could legitimately support the charge that they had broadcast ‘false news’. In fact, it was clear that their reports were thorough and responsible at all times,” he said.

The IFJ said: “We cautiously welcome the pardon and release of Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed; however we remain concerned for the status of Peter Greste. We join MEAA in raising concerns for the remaining six journalists who were tried in absentia as well as the many other journalists detained in jail in Egypt for their work. We call on the international community to continue to draw attention to the violations of press freedom in Egypt and call on President al-Sisi to dismiss all charges against Peter Greste and the journalist tried in absentia. We will continue to fight for the rights of journalists and the protection of press freedom.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 134 countries

Find the IFJ on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific

Find the IFJ on Facebook: www.facebook.com/IFJAsiaPacific