CPJ calls for release of Egypt’s jailed journalists

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi to free dozens of journalists currently languishing in Egyptian prisons.

“We call on you to ensure the release of all journalists who are behind bars for carrying out their professional responsibilities,” the group said in an open letter to al-Sisi.

“Members of the press everywhere should be able to work openly and freely without fear of reprisal, harassment or imprisonment,” it added.

On Wednesday, al-Sisi pardoned three journalists from Qatar’s Al-Jazeera news channel who had been jailed for “spreading false news” — a move that had made international headlines.

The pardon came only days before al-Sisi was scheduled to deliver an address before the UN General Assembly in New York.

“While we welcome the presidential pardon of the Al-Jazeera journalists, the reality remains that journalists are still being arrested, harassed and threatened… at unprecedented levels in Egypt,” the CPJ said.

It went on to assert that journalists working in Egypt often faced accusations of “tarnishing the country's image” for reporting on domestic issues.

“But the truth is that nothing has hurt Egypt's image as deeply as the government's actions to quash all forms of criticism,” it added.

The Egyptian authorities, for their part, have yet to comment on the CPJ's assertions.

‘No action'

The NGO also noted that the number of journalists imprisoned in Egypt for carrying out their professional duties had increased since last December.

According to the CPJ, at least 18 journalists are currently behind bars in Egypt for doing their work.

“Several of those in jail have reported mistreatment, abuse and horrible conditions in prison, according to their letters and their families,” the advocacy group stated.

“And yet your government has taken no action to resolve their cases,” it added.

In July, the CPJ said that at least 22 journalists had been detained by Egyptian security forces since the military ouster of elected President Mohamed Morsi in mid-2013.

The group also noted that at least ten journalists had been killed while reporting in Egypt since a popular uprising in early 2011 forced autocratic president Hosni Mubarak to step down.

“And although none of them were killed since you [al-Sisi] took office, no one has been held accountable in any of the cases,” it said.

In August, al-Sisi approved a controversial anti-terrorism law that imposes hefty fines on journalists who publish news that contradicts official statements.

“President al-Sisi, this is the reality that journalists face in your country; words and proclamations will not change this reality,” the CPJ said.

“We call on you to release all journalists from prison and ensure investigations are launched into the killing of journalists in recent years,” it added.

Egypt has been roiled by turmoil since the military ousted Morsi, the country's first freely elected president and a Muslim Brotherhood leader, in July 2013.

Since Morsi's overthrow, Egyptian authorities have launched a fierce crackdown on his supporters and members of his Muslim Brotherhood group, killing hundreds and throwing thousands behind bars.

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