29 Jan 2014

Egypt: Al Jazeera journalists ‘to face charges’

The chairman of Egypt’s State Information Service tells Channel 4 News that charges are to be brought against three Al Jazeera journalists who were detained last December.

Three Al Jazeera journalists were detained in Cairo on December 30th by Egyptian authorities. Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Fahmy, former BBC Correspondent Peter Greste and producer Baher Mohamed have been held in detention while being investigated by authorities.

A further two journalists from the broadcaster’s Arabic-language channel – reporter Abdullah al-Shami and cameraman Mohammed Badr – were detained last year and have been in prison since August.

His Excellency Ambassador Salah Abdel Sadek, confirmed that an investigation into Al Jazeera journalists has now been completed and a decision has been made to bring charges.

Mr Sadek did not specify which of the five journalists have been charged, or whether this includes the two Al-Jazeera Arabic broadcasters.

When asked what the men had been charged with, Mr Sadek told Channel 4 News that the journalists were “not working under the law and breaking the law by not being accredited”.

“They just start filming without any permission from any authority, which is something against the code of media in Egypt”, said Mr Sadek.

They have also been charged with breaking the law by editing material in a way which “would make Egypt look like it is in civil war or that there is a crack within society”.

“When they investigated they found the material was maliciously edited and montaged to leave some wrong impression not reflecting the truth. And that – it is breaking the law”.

Conflicting reports

However in Cairo on Wednesday it was announced that the public prosecutor intends to put on trial an Australian (Peter Greste is Australian), two Britons and a Dutchwoman for aiding 16 Egyptians belonging to a “terrorist organisation.”

The identities of the Britons and the Dutchwoman were not immediately clear.

In a statement, the public prosecutor said the four had published “lies” that harmed the national interest and had supplied money, equipment and information to the 16 Egyptians. The foreigners were also accused of using unlicensed broadcasting equipment.

Plea for release

The announcement of charges in Egypt came as Al Jazeera appealed publicly to authorities for the immediate release of its five employees.

Along with colleagues from other broadcasters, including Channel 4 News, the channel held a press conference at the Frontline Club in London.

Heather Allen, Al Jazeera head of newsgathering, said she had been travelling back and forth to Cairo for the last three and a half weeks for numerous court appearances as the detention of the journalists was extended for another 15 days. All three were now in their third 15 day period in detention she said.

Al Jazeera’s Cairo office has been closed since 3 July when it was raided by security forces, hours after the army forced former President Mursi from power following mass protests against him.

Prison conditions

In a letter from prison released over the weekend, Mr Greste wrote: “I’ve been locked in my cell 24 hours a day for the past 10 days, allowed out only for visits to the prosecutor for questioning, so the chance for a walk in the weak winter sunshine is precious.”

Speaking via videolink to the Al Jazeera press conference earlier, Mr Greste’s father Juris said that one of the things that had upset him and his wife most was the thought of their son in a cell, knowing what an outdoors person he was: “being cooped up for more than 24 hours is hell for him”.

Mr Greste’s letter went on to say that he had “been caught in the middle of a political struggle that is not my own” stating that he had been in “Cairo only two weeks before interior ministry agents burst through the door of my hotel room, that of my colleague and producer Mohamed Fahmy, and into the home of Al Jazeera’s second producer Baher Mohamed.”