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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Egypt releases one journalist but 183 people sentenced to death

Egypt has released one Al Jazeera journalist, Australian Peter Greste, who had been in a Cairo prison for 400 days. Two other Al Jazeera journalists remain in prison.

Greste was released by Egyptian authorities unconditionally according to Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Canadian Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy was still imprisoned yesterday but his release is expected at any time. His UK colleague Sue Turton reported to the Star newspaper: “It does look like it’s really imminent. I know we’ve been saying that for the last 24 hours.” The Canadian Foreign Affairs minister, John Baird, who had been pressing Egyptian authorities for Fahmy's release announced his resignation yesterday. Al Jazeera claims its three journalists were wrongly convicted back in 2013 under Egypt's anti-terrorism laws. Among the charges was spreading lies to help the Muslim Brotherhood, designated as a terrorist organization in Egypt. The regime even promoted the trial: Ahead of the trial the prosecution aired a 22-minute video on a pro-regime network of the what they described as the lair of the "Marriott Cell" – the hotel where the Al Jazeera reporters were staying when they were arrested on charges of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and abetting terrorism. To an ominous soundtrack – the music was stolen from the comic book movie "Thor: The Dark World" – the camera pans over computers, cameras, notebooks, and ethernet cable. The short film was designed to feed the xenophobic and anti-Muslim Brotherhood hysteria of post-coup Egypt. While both Fahmy and Greste have dual citizenship the third journalist, Baher Mohamed, has only Egyptian citizenship. Greste said that his release was "a really big step forward" for Egypt and he hoped that his colleagues would also be released.
Response to the news was muted in Egypt where press freedom has been restricted under President el-Sisi. Julie Posetti on Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) said that under new legislation passed by the Abbott government, journalists could also risk imprisonment for reporting on terrorism: "While the government is celebrating the release of journalist Peter Greste, it's still responsible for legislation that represents a chilling attack on media freedom in our own country." In Canada, the Harper government also passed legislation that will make it a crime to support terrorism. Conceivably, this legislation could also be used against journalists. 
 However, imprisoning journalists may be a high profile sign of Egypt's perverted justice system but the worst injustices have been mass trials of protesters and imposition of hundreds of death sentences, as well as killing of hundreds of protesters in earlier crackdowns on protests against the military coup. Even as Greste was released an Egyptian court sentenced another 183 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to death for their role in protests after the present president el-Sisi mounted a military coup that overthrew the elected government of Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. In early 2014 there were mass show trials in which more than 2,100 protesters were sentenced to death. One trial alone in April of 2014 recommended the death sentence for 683 people including the leader of the Brotherhood Mohammed Badie. President Obama has requested $1.3 billion for Egypt's military in the next budget.

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