Reporters Without Borders has sent the following open letter to French President François Hollande asking him to raise the “delicate” issue of freedom of information and the jailing of journalists when he meets his Egyptian counterpart during an official visit to Cairo tomorrow.
President François Hollande Elysée Palace 55 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré 75008 Paris Paris, 4 August 2015 Subject: Freedom of information in Egypt Dear President Hollande, Reporters Without Borders, an international NGO that defends freedom of information, would like to draw your attention to the disturbing state of media freedom in Egypt before your visit to Cairo on 6 August. We already shared our concerns with you last November and we regret that human rights and, in particular, freedom of information were not mentioned in the joint statement that you and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi issued from the Elysée Palace. At a time when Paris and Cairo are reinforcing their friendship and their economic ties, we hope you will take advantage of your visit to raise the crucial issue of media freedom, including the situation of the many imprisoned journalists, with the Egyptian president. Ranked 158th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, Egypt is now the world’s fourth biggest prison for journalists, after China, Eritrea and Iran. At a joint press conference with US secretary of state John Kerry on 2 August, Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry claimed that Egypt was not holding any journalists just for doing their job and that all of the detained journalists had been involved in terrorist activities. The trumped-up charge of “belonging to or supporting a terrorist organization” is often used to gag dissent in Egypt. As soon as Field Marshall Sisi took power, the government used its offensive against terrorism and the Muslim Brotherhood as grounds for embarking on a ruthless war against journalists who do not toe the official line. Many are languishing in prison awaiting trials in which they could be sentenced to long jail terms or even life imprisonment. At least 15 journalists are currently detained just for covering news developments and trying to encourage a public debate. The retrial of three Al-Jazeera journalists that began in February was postponed for the tenth time a few days ago. Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, who were released provisionally in February, and their Australian colleague Peter Greste, who was deported to his country of origin, are accused of supporting a terrorist organization and broadcasting “false news.” At the end of their first trial, in June 2014, they were given sentences ranging from seven to ten years in prison along with six other Al-Jazeera journalists who were tried in absentia. Although the Court of Cassation quashed their convictions in January 2015, the three journalists spent more than 400 days in prison, to the discontent of the international community, and are still waiting to know their fate. Mahmoud Abou Zeid, a freelance photojournalist known by the pseudonym of “Shawkan,” has spent more than 700 days in pretrial detention – one of the longest periods in the country’s history – without any charge being brought against him. Arrested in August 2013 while filming a protest, he was not brought before a judge until May 2015. He has hepatitis and is in a critical condition because he is not getting medical treatment in the prison where he is being held. Suppressing freedom of information and silencing critical journalists do not help Egypt’s transition to democracy. France, the country of human rights, cannot neglect the cause of press freedom, a fundamental freedom in any country that respects the rule of law. We thank you in advance for the attention you give to our request. Sincerely, Christophe Deloire Secretary-General