Rights group raises concern over ongoing prosecution of journalists

Thursday 06-10-2016 12:15 PM

A demonstration at the steps of the press syndicate to demand the release of journalists in custody, on Dec. 9, 2015. ASWATMASRIYA/ Mohamed al-Raai

CAIRO, Oct. 6 (Aswat Masriya) – The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) condemned the “systematic crackdown on press freedom in Egypt,” and the trial of journalists in a statement on Wednesday, ahead of several court hearings scheduled for the coming few days.

ANHRI raised concern over the trial of journalists for “conducting their work or expressing their peaceful opinion through social media outlets,” the statement said.

The statement comes on the day the detention of journalist Hesham Gaafar was renewed, as he faces charges of harming Egypt’s national security. A court hearing for the trial of Journalists’ Syndicate head Yehia Qallash and board members Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel Rehim is also scheduled for October 8.

Another hearing for the trial of photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, known as Shawkan, involved in the case of the Rabaa sit-in dispersal is also slated for the same day, the statement said.

“The climate of exercising freedoms in Egypt - particularly press freedom - is deteriorating every day, in light of clear indicators of the authorities’ intention to silence whoever dares to criticize them,” ANHRI said, “which will not lead to any good long-term results with respect to the development of the Egyptian society and the improvement of democracy situation in the country.”

Gaafar, chairman of the Mada Foundation for Media Development, was arrested in October 2015 after security forces raided the foundation and stormed his house. He faces charges of joining an outlawed group and receiving an international funds.

His health condition continues to deteriorate due to his detention in the notorious al-Aqrab Prison, ANHRI said, and as he continues to be denied access to necessary medication.

Qallash, Balshy and Abdel Rehim are on trial for “harboring fugitives,” in reference to journalists Amr Badr and Mahmoud al-Sakka, who are also on trial for inciting protests, attempting to overthrow the regime and broadcasting false news with the aim of disturbing public peace.

Meanwhile, Shawkan has been detained since his arrest on August 14, 2013 as he covered the dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in. He was remained in pre-trial detention for 800 days after which he was included in the Rabaa dispersal case, and faces a possible death sentence or life imprisonment, ANHRI said. He faces charges of illegal gathering, the show of force, illegal arms possession, premeditated murder, and deliberate vandalism of public and private property.

Shawkan suffers from Hepatitis C and is in need of medical care that is not available in Tora Prison where he is being detained, ANHRI said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a report in December that Egypt is second to China as the world’s worst jailer of journalists, with 23 journalists currently in jail, eight of whom were imprisoned in 2015. Shawkan and Gaafar are included in CPJ’s list of jailed journalists in Egypt.

Last week, three journalists were arrested as they were reportedly filming near the Journalists' Syndicate in Downtown Cairo. They face charges of spreading false news and have been subjected to torture while in detention, according to their lawyer.

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