The International Press Institute, a global network of editors, journalists and media executives, has called on the League of Arab States to secure the release of journalists detained in Egypt.
In a letter to the secretary general of the League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi expressed grave concern over the decline of media freedom in Egypt, especially the increasing harassment and detention of journalists and threats against reporters and editors who muster the courage to challenge the government.
Pointing out that several journalists are in detention in Egypt without any charges filed against them, Trionfi requested the secretary general to use his good offices to urge President Abel Fatah el-Sisi to intervene and order the release of all journalists held without trial.
Mahmoud Hussein of Al Jazeera has been in detention for over 500 days without charges. He was arrested in December 2016 and his detention has been extended arbitrarily.
Another journalist, Mahmoud Abu Zeid, known as Shawkan, has been in prison since August 14, 2013. He faces the death penalty for taking photographs of attacks by security forces on protesters’ camps. In April 2018, Shawkan was awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.
Similarly, Ismail Al Sayed Mohamed Omar Toufic has been held in prison without trial since November 29, 2015. He has been accused of belonging to a banned group and spreading false news. Toufic’s case was referred to a military prosecutor after his pre-trial detention period ended in January this year.
Authorities have not presented evidence of wrongdoing in cases involving journalists held in pre-trial detention. Their detention is renewed periodically, usually every 45 days.
“Detaining journalists without trial and without affording them an opportunity to defend themselves violates international law”, IPI Head of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said. “Silencing critical, independent voices that reflect the concerns of the public stands contrary to the democratic values that Egypt claims to uphold.”
Since 1950, IPI has advocated for freedom of press, protection and safety of journalists and release of journalists who have been detained because of their work in different parts of the world.
His Excellency Ahmed Aboul Gheit
The League of Arab States
2 May 2018
Re: Request for your good offices to uphold Media Freedom in Egypt
Your Excellency Mr. Aboul Gheit,
The International Press Institute is a global network of editors, journalists and media executives that promotes freedom of the press and safety of journalists.
We are writing to you to express our grave concern over the steady decline of media freedom, increasing harassment and incarceration of journalists, and threats against reporters and editors who challenge the government’s narrative in Egypt.
Currently, Egypt is detaining a large number of journalists and media workers in its prisons, which makes the country one of the worst places for journalists to work.
Mr. Mahmoud Abu Zeid or Shawkan, a photojournalist, has been in prison since August 14, 2013. He faces the death penalty for taking photographs of attacks by the security forces on protesters’ camps. In April 2018, Shawkan was awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.
Mr. Ismail Al Sayed Mohamed Omar Toufic has been held in prison without trial since November 29, 2015. He has been accused of belonging to a banned group and spreading false news.
Mr. Mahmoud Hussein has been in detention without charge since December 2016. His detention has been extended arbitrarily, and despite international appeals, the government has not released Mr. Hussein.
Authorities have not presented evidence of wrongdoing in these or other cases involving journalists held in pre-trial detention. Their detention is renewed periodically, usually every 45 days. In case of Mr. Toufic, after his time in pre-trial detention had elapsed in January 2018, he was referred to a military prosecutor – still without charges – instead of being released.
These and other detentions of journalists are unacceptable, as we firmly believe that freedom of the press is a fundamental pillar of any functioning state. A free and independent media is a bulwark of democracy, whereas in Egypt, which claims to embrace democratic values, all critical voices are being silenced.
Throughout its history, Egypt has played a crucial role in the region. It has served as the meeting point of the Middle East and North Africa regions, and has often been a mediator between Arab nations. With such influence, we believe that Egypt can and should continue its leadership role and set an example for the region when it comes to freedom of the press.
We are confident that through cooperation and transparency, a lot can change for the better, and that detained journalists, who were simply doing their job, can be free again and carry out their important work without hindrance.
Your excellency, we request you to use your good offices to urge His Excellency President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi to release all detained journalists and make good on his promise to transform Egypt into a vibrant democracy.
Looking forward to a positive response.