Follow WAN-IFRA's @ArabFreeMedia for press freedom news from the MENA region.
Visit http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/spotlight/freeajstaff/ for more on the imprisoned Al Jazeera journalists and to sign an online petiiton calling for their release.
His Excellency Adly Mansour
Interim President of Egypt
Office of the President
Arab Republic of Egypt
10 February 2014
We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries, to express our serious concern at the prosecution of 20 Al-Jazeera journalists.
According to reports, on 29 January the Prosecutor General announced that 20 Al-Jazeera journalists would be put on trial on criminal charges of incitement, distorting the country's image abroad and assisting a terrorist group, the Muslim Brotherhood. At least five of the journalists are already in prison, while the others have reportedly fled. The imprisoned journalists include Australian journalist Peter Greste, Cairo Bureau chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, who has dual Egyptian/Canadian nationality, and Egyptian journalist Baher Mohamed, who were arrested on 29 December 2013. Their colleagues Abdullah al-Shami and Mohammed Badr were jailed five months ago.
We respectfully remind you that the prosecution of journalists for carrying out their profession constitutes a clear breach of the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by numerous international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of the Declaration states: 'Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers.'
The association your government has attempted to make between journalism and terrorist activities is particularly alarming. We are extremely concerned that equating a respected international broadcaster with a now-banned terrorist organisation thoroughly undermines independent professional journalism in Egypt.
Furthermore, we believe this sets an incredibly dangerous precedent in terms of the public perception of the role of the media and the status of professional journalists. The message it sends to the Egyptian public, and to the wider international community, is that Egypt is closed off to debate and criticism, and that accountability of public officials is of low priority for the interim authorities. We respectfully urge you to ensure the Egyptian and international press alike is free to report independently of government pressure, and that any attempt to intimidate and censor reporting should be resisted in the interests of transparency and accountability at this moment of great importance for the transformation of the Egyptian state.
We respectfully call on you to take all necessary steps to ensure that the five detained journalists are immediately released and that all charges are dropped against them and their 15 colleagues. We urge you to ensure that in future your government fully observes its international obligations to freedom of expression.
We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Editors Forum
WAN-IFRA is the global organisation for the world’s newspapers and news publishers, with formal representative status at the United Nations, UNESCO and the Council of Europe. The organization groups 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries.