By Sonja Hanson
On December 29, Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste were arrested under spurious charges claiming they support the Muslim Brotherhood and were publishing false information detrimental to national security. On January 8 their charge was extended another 15 days.
The arrest brings the number of incarcerated Al Jazeera journalists up to five. Abdullah Al-Shami and Mohammad Badr, two Egyptian Al Jazeera journalists, were arrested five months ago and remain held without charge. This treatment is not new for the news organization, over the past three years Al Jazeera have faced a number of offenses, including the jamming of their transmissions on broadcasts and raids on their offices.
State censorship is a growing concern in the country with Egypt being ranked the second most dangerous country in the world for journalists. According to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, in Egypt between January and March 2013, 10 journalists were assaulted, seven were arrested or kidnapped, and according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, six journalists were killed.
Carol Grey, a visiting Fulbright Scholar with Loyola’s College for Diversity and Sustainability, is no stranger to this aggressive censorship. While stationed in Cairo as a Rotary Scholar, Grey had her blog monitored, her apartment and hotel broken into, her computer and phone bugged, and one of her translators threatened.
The censorship does not exist solely in the publishing world. According to Grey, average citizens have their homes raided and cameras confiscated; arbitrary arrests happen on a daily basis and prisons in Egypt are reaching full capacity. This is all a part of one of the most sophisticated security states in the world.
The international reporting community has come forward demanding the release of the journalists. A statement issued on January 13 and signed by Associated Press, CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post (among many others) stated, “we strongly believe that upholding the rights of journalists and permitting the free flow of information is vital to bringing about greater understanding and serves the best interests of all Egyptians and the world.”
According to Grey, this kind of attention is exactly what is necessary to ensure the release of the journalists. “Their case is far too high profile to be ignored,” she said. However, that does not mean it will be easy. “The government doesn’t want to look like it’s swayed by public opinion.” In other words, the fight is far from over.
With the third year anniversary of the Arab Spring coming up, questions have risen over whether or not things have improved, and with the continued detainment of journalists, it seems Egypt still has a ways to go. However, hope is not entirely lost, as Grey notes, there is far more political awareness, ideas of what rights should be, and dialogue now than there was before. This is why journalists like Fahmy, Mohammad, and Greste are so important for the future of Egypt: with no public voice keeping the government in line, there is no future for a democratic Egypt.