Africa Media Development Foundation condemns the continuous harassment and intimidation of journalists in Africa. The recent being the conviction of three leaders of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate on charges of harboring their colleagues.
An Egyptian court had last Saturday sentenced Yehia Qallash, the head of the journalists’ union and two board members Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel Rahim to two years in prison, for harboring fugitives who are said to be their colleagues wanted by the law for spreading false news.
It is alleged that “The authorities are punishing Yehia Qallash, Khaled al-Balshy, and Gamal Abdel Rahim, who represent the most influential voice for press freedom in Egypt, for working to protect journalists from harassment, threats, and arrests”.
Reports further reveal that the sentence on the three journalists targets the Journalists’ Syndicate; the official union for the Egyptian press that has been in existence in Egypt for about 75 years. “The three of us have been put on trial (but) the target is the whole syndicate,” Qalash earlier told reporters.
The journalists’ union had said it would appeal the verdict against its head, Yehia Qalash, and the two board members, Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel Rahim. Meanwhile, a bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($623) has been set for each of them.
Officials of the Union in a statement described the action by the government agents as “very shocking and surprising”, also the Amnesty International has condemned the sentences as “a new stage of a crackdown on media and freedom of expression”.
“Egypt is one of the worst countries in terms of detention of journalists and comes second after China,” observed Amnesty’s Mohamed Ahmed, a researcher on Egypt and a human rights lawyer.
Also reports reaching the AMDF desk confirmed that four journalists were also detained on November 11 amid a heavy operation of security forces in Egypt’s cities in response to calls for nationwide protests over economic reforms. The protests were fewer and smaller than anticipated, but journalists were still harassed and, in some cases, arrested, according to local and international media. One journalist remains in custody.
Photojournalist Abdelrahman Taher was arrested November 11 while covering a march in Haram, in the Giza district that borders Cairo. Taher appeared before homeland security prosecutors the following day and state prosecutors on November 13, according to local press freedom groups and news reports. State prosecutors charged Taher with belonging to a terrorist group, participating in an illegal protest, and obstructing traffic.
According to press freedom groups, Taher was previously arreseted in February 2015 and held in pre-trial detention for almost a year on charges of protesting and was released from custody in January 2016, pending charges. A statement by the Journalists’ Syndicate, the official union for the Egyptian press stated that at the time of his latest arrest Taher was covering the Friday marches for the website, Al Sahm News.
Local reports show that at least three other journalists working with different media were detained the same day while carrying out their duties at different locations. Hesham Mohamed, who works for the newspaper al-Watan and Ahmed Lotfy Sayyed, who works for the news website Masrawy were for taking photographs.
Editor Karima Hassan was also detained while covering Tahrir, according to her outlet, Al-Masry Al-Youm. She was stopped by police after photographing a small group of people chanting in support of the security forces and the Egyptian government. Police held Hassan in a residential building in the square then took her to a police van, where an officer questioned Hassan and went through her phone and tablet before releasing her.
The heightened crackdown on journalists and freedom of expression in Africa is not only worrisome but a wake-up call on all and sundry to rise for the freedom of the press; the voice of the people.
Africa Media Development Foundation (AMDF) therefore calls on Egyptian authorities to let the Journalists Syndicate and all members of the press do their jobs without fear of reprisal.