Jailing journalists should carry a price


We are not regular viewers of the Al Jazeera family of networks, which include Al Jazeera America, the news channel that debuted in August 2013, or beIN Sport USA, the 24-hour soccer channel that launched in August 2012.

Nevertheless, we are profoundly troubled by the decision June 23 by an Egyptian judge to imprison three Al Jazeera journalists for sentences of seven years to 10 years for, supposedly, broadcasting “false news” about the Egyptian government and, allegedly, aiding a “terrorist organization.”

While we have not closely followed the legal proceedings 7,500 miles away in a Cairo courtroom, we find it hard to believe that the three Al Jazeera staffers were secretly working for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Peter Greste, who received a seven-year sentence, is an Australian national who previously worked for CNN and the BBC.

His colleague, Mohamed Fahmy, Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau chief, is an Egyptian-born Canadian who previously worked for the New York Times. He also was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian news producer, was given a 10-year prison term; the additional three years were tacked on by a judge because of a dubious weapons charge.

Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo on June 22, where he met with Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt’s recently elected president. During their 90-minute sit-down, Mr. Kerry reportedly urged the former general to free the three journos.

On June 23, Mr. Kerry learned that President Sissi was unmoved by his 11th-hour jawboning. So he called Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry to express his “serious displeasure” with the court verdicts that “fly in face of the essential role of civil society, a free press and real rule of law.”

We’re sure Mssrs. Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed were grateful for Mr. Kerry’s words of support. But they probably would have been even more grateful if his words had been followed by meaningful action from the Obama administration.

Like rescinding the administration’s decision, confirmed by Mr. Kerry, to go ahead with delivery of U.S. attack helicopters to the Sissi government that were delayed last year because of Egypt’s human-rights abuses.

And like telling President Sissi that there will be no restoration of normalized relations until Cairo desists in persecuting journalists who are simply doing their jobs.

— From the Orange County Register

 

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