Assam scribes appeal for release of jailed journalists

(Guwahati, 27 June 2014) / By Our Correspondent

freedom of pressJoining the international chorus for the FreeAJStaff campaign, an Indian scribes’ body has demanded an immediate release of all journalists, who have been jailed in Egypt for allegedly ‘spreading false reports collaborating with the banned Muslim Brotherhood group endangering Egypt’s national security’.

In a statement issued today, Journalists’ Forum Assam (JFA), a northeast India based scribes’ body, has appealed to the Egyptian government in Cairo to offer clemency to the newsmen for maintaining the spirit of democracy and journalism.

The JFA also calls the Burma government in Naypyitaw to release five journalists imprisoned in the country. The southeast Asian country, which has accepted the process of democracy, still keeps four journalists namely Zaw Pe (Democratic Voice of Burma, jailed since 7 April 2014),  Yarzar Oo (Unity Weekly, since 1 February 2014), Paing Thet Kyaw (Unity Weekly, since 1 February 2014), Sithu Soe (Unity Weekly, since 1 February 2014) and Lu Maw Naing (Unity Weekly, since 31 January 2014) behind bars.

Media reports reveal that three journalists engaged with the Doha based Al-Jazeera news channel are facing imprisonment in Egypt since last year. The jailed journalists including Peter Greste, an Australian journalist working for Al-Jazeera, Mohamed Adel Fahmy, Egyptian-Canadian bureau chief (of Al-Jazeera) based in Cairo and Baher Mohamed, Egyptian producer of Al-Jazeera were arrested in Cairo by the government agency on 29 December 2013 and since then they are behind bars.

A court in Cairo on 23 June 2014 pronounced the verdict of sentencing journalists Greste, 48, who used to work for BBC & Reuters before joining in Al-Jazeera and Fahmy, 40, who used to work for CNN & New York Times to seven years in prison, where as 10 years imprisonment to Baher Mohamed, 30, who wrote for Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper before becoming an Al-Jazeera news producer. Two more Al-Jazeera journalists namely Sue Turton and Dominic Kane were also tried in absentia and ordered 10 years imprisonment. Similar punishment was also pronounced for Rena Netjes, a correspondent for Dutch Parool newspaper by the court.

The convicted trio and also the news channel management have rejected the charges against them and maintained their innocence. It argues that the Cairo court verdicts defy ‘logic, sense and any semblance of justice’ and their journalists were being held simply for doing their job. Al-Jazeera has called for the verdicts to be overturned and the journalists to be released as early as possible.

Meanwhile, the Cairo court verdict has provoked a global outcry for the immediate release of the journalists. Media rights bodies and political leaderships of western world have criticized the act of sentencing Al-Jazeera journalists for ‘unfounded facts’. Appeals have been made to the newly elected Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to intervene in the matter for the release of the journalists.

However, ignoring the international criticism and calls, the President Sissi  has distanced himself from the judicial process saying that his government would ‘not interfere in judicial matters’. The President, who had replaced Islamist President Mohammed Morsi few months back, asserting that the Egyptian judiciary is an independent entity, the authorities would always respect its independence.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), there are at lest 14 journalists still behind bars in Egypt with various accusations. Joining the global FreeAJStaff campaign, the New York based media rights body pointed out that ‘the jailing of the journalists is a brutal blow to Egyptian free speech and will only intensify the nation’s government-created climate of fear’.

The Paris based Reporters Without Borders/ Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) reports that all together 170 working journalists are serving imprisonment in various countries. China tops the list with 32 journalists sent to jail, followed by Eritrea (28), Iran (21), Syria (16), Ethiopia (9), Uzbekistan (9), Azerbaijan (8), Bahrain (5), Cuba (3), Russia (3), Turkey (3), Vietnam (2),  Saudi Arabia (2),  India (Sudhir Dhawle of Vidrohi and AS Mani of Netrikkan Naveena) etc.

“Reporting insurgency can not be a crime and hence the Al-Jazeera journalists should get the clemency. While we support the spirit of Egyptians for transforming their country from an autocracy to a democracy, we expect, the media should get an opportunity to contribute in the process of transition,” said the JFA statement issued by its president Rupam Barua and secretary Nava Thakuria.

It concluded with the appeal to the journalist fraternity of India, which is recognized as the largest media entity in the globe, to come forward intensifying voices for the imprisoned newsmen in various counties. Also added, “The Indian media rights bodies too should preach the message of press freedom across the world without trepidations.”


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