24 June 2014 – Egypt’s courts once again alarm UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. The condemnation of three Al Jazeera journalists, as well as 11 others tried in abstentia, to prison sentences between seven to ten years long, has been criticised in harsh terms by human rights organisations worldwide.
While noting that they are subject to appeal, Pillay said the Al Jazeera verdicts, along with Saturday’s confirmation by an Egyptian court of the death penalty for 183 Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters convicted in an earlier mass trial, are the latest in a string of prosecutions and court proceedings that have been “rife with procedural irregularities and in breach of international human rights law.”
“Media employees trying to carry out their work in Egypt are now confronted by an extremely difficult and dangerous environment. They should be protected, not prosecuted,” she further stressed. Ms. Pillay also highlighted that at least six journalists have been killed in Egypt since August of 2013. “Harassment, detention and prosecution of national and international journalists, including bloggers, as well as violent attacks by unidentified assailants, have become commonplace.”
Ms. Pillay noted that the journalists were charged with, “harming national unity and social peace, spreading false reports, and membership of a ‘terrorist organization.” She stresses that these charges, “are far too broad and vague, and therefore reinforce the belief that the real target is freedom of expression.”
The High Commissioner urged the Egyptian authorities to promptly release all journalists and other media employees imprisoned for carrying out legitimate news reporting activities. In the light of the succession of highly contentious trials, especially those resulting in the mass imposition of the death penalty, Pillay urged the Government to review the laws on which the trials were based.
“It is not a crime to carry a camera, or to try to report various points of views about events,” Pillay emphasized. “It is not a crime to criticize the authorities, or to interview people who hold unpopular views. Journalists and civil society members should not be arrested, prosecuted, beaten up or sacked for reporting on sensitive issues. They should not be shot for trying to report or film things we, the public, have a right to know are happening.”
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