Egypt: IFJ backs call to overturn journalist’s death sentence

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has demanded “baseless and false charges” against a senior Egyptian journalist be dropped and a death sentence against him overturned.

The IFJ, representing 600,000 journalists worldwide, is backing calls by its UK affiliate, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), for the immediate dropping of charges against Al Jazeera journalist and NUJ member Ibrahim Helal, who was sentenced to death in absentia on 7 May in Egypt. He is charged with spying for the state of Qatar, charges which the IFJ and the NUJ have slammed as “fabricated”.

The call came as IFJ President Jim Boumelha was set to raise Ibrahim’s case during the Congress of the Federation of Arab Journalists (FAJ) in Tunis tomorrow and deliver a letter from NUJ General Secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, asking for the death sentence to be overturned. He will call on the wider Arab journalistic community to take up the case.

“The criminalization of journalists is not just an attack on one reporter; it is an attack on us all and undermines the ability of journalists to do their jobs free from fear of attacks and reprisals,” said Michelle Stanistreet in the letter. “It is vital that this death sentence is overturned or that a full pardon is granted.”

Jim Boumelha said: “The IFJ backs the NUJ’s call that these fabricated charges must be dropped and Ibrahim allowed to return to Egypt and visit his family and work freely and independently as a journalist. Journalism in Egypt is under severe threat and Ibrahim is just one more victim of the attempt to silence independent voices. We pledge to do everything we can to support Ibrahim, the NUJ and the right of all journalists in Egypt to work free from threat, harassment and attacks.”

Ibrahim Helal is the former director of news of Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel was sentenced to death on 7 May together with other two journalists for allegedly leaking state secrets to Qatar, following a 2 year legal process in which he was denied any legal representation. The charges of espionage relate to the broadcast of a report on Al Jazeera, when Ibrahim was head of news, which revealed a document demonstrating links between Hamas and key figures in President Sisi’s regime. The Egyptian government claimed there was a spying plot to sell state documents to Qatari military intelligence, linking in Ibrahim Helal.

Michelle Stanistreet added: “The charges of spying are baseless and ridiculous. This is about a legitimate piece of public interest journalism that went down badly for obvious reasons with the Egyptian government. Ibrahim has never been questioned, there is no evidence of a plot or that he was involved. The whole business would be farcical if it wasn’t so sinister and the consequences so dire for him and his family. This is about cracking down on journalistic freedoms, the death sentence is intended as a carefully calculated message to journalists the world over that it is not safe to write freely about the Egyptian government. Journalists around the world will not stand by and allow this to happen. The NUJ fully supports Ibrahim’s case and with the IFJ we will do all we can to get this sentence overturned."

Ibrahim has worked as a journalist for 27 years and is not in any political party or group. “The main inconsistency is that we as journalists are accused of cooperating with the Muslim Brotherhood and the government of Qatar,” he told media. “It does not make any sense that the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar needed me to mediate between them.”

For more information, please contact IFJ on + 32 2 235 22 16

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