Things keep getting worse for journalists in Egypt.
Despite what so many ill-informed Americans think, Al-Jazeera is a very good news organization that digs deep into their stories. To not have Al Jazeera working in Egypt means that the world is missing much of the nuance and multifaceted issues that take place during social upheavals.
The bottom line is that the Egyptian government has charged 20 Al Jazeera journalists of joining terrorist groups, broadcasting false news and distorting Egypt’s international image.
Just off the top of my head, nothing hurts Egypt’s international image more than tossing journalists in jail.
The most discussed case is the group known as the “Marriott Cell” (Al Jazeera arrests in Egypt cause concern). Canadian-Egyptian bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, and Australian correspondent Peter Greste, were arrested in late December. The journalists were all part of Al Jazeera English and were arrested at the Marriott Hotel where they set up shop.
The charges seem against the three seem to revolve around the fact that they were talking to as many people as possible about the demonstrations against the government. And some of those sources were members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the twisted thinking of the generals running things in Egypt, interviewing someone is the same as agreeing to that person’s political beliefs. (Amazing how dictatorships all think alike on this issue. The same thing happens in China and Cuba.)
So, thanks to the Egyptian government the public is denied access to important news. Al Jazeera, which has proven itself to be on of the best in getting information to the public about what is happening in an Arab countries, is no longer to function in the country.
The message is clear that reporters — Egyptian and foreign — need to toe the line.
Foreign correspondents are concerned that the case could establish a precedent of criminalizing ordinary journalistic contact with the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government recently designated a terrorist organization. After the military deposed Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohamed Morsi in July, the new government launched a clampdown on the Islamist group and other political opponents, killing more than 1,000 and arresting thousands of others.
In an attempt to reassure international journalists, Egypt’s State Information Service issued a statement on Thursday, saying that “Egyptian law does not criminalize mere contact with or prior knowing of anyone accused of committing a crime or any person imprisoned pending a case.” The statement however contained that such contact is legal unless such contact constitutes “involvement in committing the crime by means of assisting, inciting or prior agreement.”
Not everyone was reassured. Guardian correspondent Patrick Kingsley quipped on Twitter, “Thinking is ok, as long as your thoughts are in line with a set of rules we make up as we go along.”
— There are no Al Jazeera journalists reporting in Egypt, CJR 2/3/14