Egypt

Al Jazeera Verdict, A Farce Of Egyptian Justice

After the verdict sentencing Al Jazeera journalists to prison, it is difficult to consider the country's court system independent. Dark days ahead for freedom of expression in Egypt.

Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Peter Greste listen to the verdict at a court in Cairo, June 23, 2014.
Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Peter Greste listen to the verdict at a court in Cairo, June 23, 2014.
Tomas Avenarius

-OpEd-

MUNICH — It doesn't take a jurist to see how thin the evidence was against the three “Marriott cell” journalists. When news broadcasts that comprise both new and archived material, which is accepted practice, are assessed as “fake news,” then it’s not just Al Jazeera that’s “guilty.” It’s also the BBC, CNN and Germany’s ARD.

When a foreign reporter is supposedly a “member of a terror group” because he or she maintains contact with representatives of a political organization that up until relatively recently was the ruling party, then journalism based on objectivity and diversity of opinion becomes irrelevant. Talking to a Muslim Brother doesn’t mean a journalist believes he’s on the side of right.

In a controversial decision, a Egyptian court has sentenced three journalists from the Al Jazeera news channel to long prison terms.

None of the above interested the Egyptian judge. Three Australian and Egyptian Al Jazeera reporters were sentenced to seven years in prison because they worked for a channel that is not politically popular in the new Cairo. Seven years behind bars because they didn’t have the requisite permission to film. Locked up for seven years after a trial where the supposed “proof” was laughable. Seven years because Egypt is feuding with the Gulf state of Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based.

After this verdict, it is difficult to consider Egypt’s justice system independent. But the verdict is more than just scandalous. Unfortunately, it could be an indication of the way the new Egypt handles freedom of the press. The judge was bent on showing all Egyptians what they could expect where diversity of opinion is concerned. Equally as important is the message Egypt apparently wants to send to its international partners: The regime in Cairo clearly places not the least bit of value on how the outside world reacts to such a huge abuse of national and international legal culture.

Political Islam is in ruins, as what played out in Egypt demonstrates. Radical Islam, however, has ever more supporters. Weekend warriors are drawn to ISIS militias whose sadism exceeds that of their mother organization al-Qaeda. It’s not going to be an easy matter to quell these terrorists.

When journalists cover legal, moral or ethical accusations made against other journalists, caution is the order of the day. For those in the media, protecting their own professional group cannot take precedence over the fate of individual citizens of a state suffering from political arbitrariness.

And what do the fates of three reporters count for in a country where an estimated 40,000 have been imprisoned since the fall of Islamic President Mohamed Morsi? Very little, apparently. Forty thousand is a horrific number, and there are terrorists among them. But there are also thousands and thousands who did nothing more than exercise their basic political right to protest or, worse, were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. The courts have also handed down hundreds of death sentences.

Over and above concerns about press freedom, the verdicts are important because they shine such a clear light on Egyptian justice, which is darkly partisan.

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