19 Feb 2014

Journalists protest at the Egyptian embassy

Egypt is increasingly cracking down on journalists: four face up to 15 years in prison and 20 are accused of aiding terrorists, including Sue Turton, who told Channel 4 News why she is protesting.

Three Al-Jazeera English journalists have been detained by Egyptian authorities for over seven weeks. Another journalist from Al-Jazeera Arabic has been on hunger strike for three weeks and has been detained since last August.

On the day before they are due to stand trial, around 50 protesters gathered outside the Egyptian embassy in London to call for their immediate release and a change in Egypt’s policy towards journalists.

Holding placards with pictures of the detained journalists and with tape over their mouths, the protesters waited outside while an NUJ delegation and Jeremy Corbyn MP met with the Egyptian ambassador to deliver a letter from the NUJ. A letter from the Frontline Club calling for the release of the journalists was also delivered to the embassy on Tuesday.

The protest also follows the arrest of 20 journalists by Egyptian authorities on charges of terrorism. Sue Turton was one of those listed by officials, and she told Channel 4 News she was “shocked”.

“I spent a number of weeks in Cairo for Al Jazeera towards the end of last year after the coup. And at the time, we treated the story like any other story we cover all over the world,” she said. “We didn’t attack the sort of stories we were doing in Cairo any differently… So it came as an absolute shock that not just myself, but my colleagues who were still in Cairo, had been charged with terrorism offenses.”

The journalists detained are former BBC journalist Peter Greste, Mohammed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohammed, along with their colleague Abdullah Al Shami, of Al Jazeera Arabic.

More than 38,000 people have signed a petition calling on the jouranlists to be released.

Mr Corbyn told Channel 4 News the meeting with the Egypian ambassador was “robust”, and longer than anticipated. But he said he was only “slightly” more hopeful that charges against the four journalists would be thrown out by the courts.

“The judge tomorrow will have to decide whether there are any credible charges against the four Al-Jazeera journalists,” said the Islington North MP.

“I would like to think that the judge will stand up for the independence of the judiciary and show that there is an independent judicial system independent of police and political interference and conclude that the charges are ludicrous.”

He added: “We take for granted that journalists will always be there for us.”

‘The foreign press are very welcome’

A spokeswoman from the Egyptian embassy in London said the trial would be going ahead despite the protesters’ demands. Sohair Younis, press councillor said: “I think they have broken the law as they entered the country without being registered as journalists. They were working in hotels and carrying equipment without getting permission to do so.”

“We advise the journalists to hire a clever lawyer to distance themselves from the terrorism accusations.” She added: “The foreign press are very welcome in Egypt.”