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The death penalty for journalists in Egypt

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Is this how verdicts in Egypt have evolved? We have gone from jailing them to sentencing them to death! It is not enough that 13 journalists were killed in the last three years and that more than 90 were imprisoned. Now we have come to find that three journalists, two from Al Jazeera have been sentenced to death for allegedly obtaining dangerous documents from Qatar.

If every journalist were accused on the basis of having obtained an important document and publishing it in a newspaper then scores of them would have been sentenced to the hangman’s noose. However, no one can escape the Egyptian judiciary as we have seen with the papers of the former head of Al Jazeera Ibrahim Hilal and Alaa Sablaan, who works as an anchor on the same network. The same can be said of the cases regarding Ahmed Afeef, a documentary show presenter, and Asmaa Mohamed Al-Khatib, a correspondent for Rassd. This is the expected formula for events in Egypt, that is, before the expected implementation of the death sentence. The mufti’s opinion in this regard is not taken into consideration by the judge.

One cannot stop and say that the limits of the death penalty will stop at only those who have been accused of acquiring and smuggling dangerous documents. In this regard we can look at the state of President Mohamed Morsi and his closest aides. Yet, regarding the journalists who were accused of publishing such papers, as well as others, we know that the courts have set aside 34 days for these individuals in question alone. The basis for these trials where “laptops which held a number of stolen documents dealing with matters of internal security and even pornography (!!).” And yet, it is important to note, does Ibrahim Hilal, who said that throughout the 90 sessions he attended “there was never truly an investigation regarding what these documents in question actually entailed. Similarly, there were no fingers pointed at anyone from the government in any clear way.” One would assume that these documents would have been of some importance in the cases of these scapegoated journalists who have been sentenced to death.

The only document that Ibrahim Hilal was accused of publishing was nothing more than one fact that was written on one page as part of a 17 page document that was broadcast on Al Jazeera. The document, as he himself explained, was related to “the question of coordination between the Egyptian army and Hamas throughout the course of a single month.” He went on to say that, “this cooperation took place nearly a month before President Mohamed Morsi was ousted because of the coup in Egypt. The document painted a picture of the relationship between Egypt and Hamas because the regime has gone on to say that Hamas acts as a threat to Egyptian national security.”

Amro Adeeb said: “After the accusations, the propaganda began in Al Jazeera. If those accused were Qataris, not this much attention would be placed on them.” Others have also written on the issue on other sites and they have said that if one does not warn Egyptians of the dangers of such verdicts, the accusations waged against the people can be revived and used as a reason for retrial. There is no longer any doubt that in today’s Egypt judiciary, there exists a great deal of bias with regards to the individual’s political biases.

Egyptian journalists are currently engaged in a battle for the freedom of the press but they are regressing due to their recent struggle with the state’s powers, which has been trying its hardest to create divisions within the journalistic community. The journalistic community is currently too weak. In Hilal’s case the only confession that has been derived from him is one that he testified to under torture.

If the regime in Egypt no longer allows its journalists freedom or access to the law, that on the one hand can be expected. In this case, if things keep going in the same way they have been then sentencing a journalist to death for publishing a document and alighting public opinion is the expected outcome. This is the nature of Al-Sisi’s war against journalists and the freedom to access information. Is it wrong, then, to say that the police state is a quasi-state?

Translated from Al-Quds Al-Arabi, 11 May 2016.


The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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