The full list of 20 journalists being pursued by Egyptian authorities on “terrorism” charges was officially revealed Wednesday, prompting Al Jazeera — with nine of its employees on the list, including three already in detention — to publicly slam the case for the first time.
Journalists Baher Mohamed, Peter Greste and Mohammed Fahmy have been detained in Cairo since Dec. 29 while on assignment for Al Jazeera English, accused of “spreading lies harmful to state security” and “joining a terrorist organization” — presumably the recently banned Muslim Brotherhood, whose members have joined those of other Islamist groups in staging mass demonstrations across the country since Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi was deposed as president in July.
“The allegations and actions of the Egyptian authorities are extraordinary, unjust, and unacceptable,” Al Jazeera English managing director Al Anstey said in a release. “The charges should be dropped, and all of our journalists who are in prison in Cairo should be freed immediately.”
Most of the names of the 20 accused journalists have not yet surfaced.
Al Jazeera said all nine of its journalists on the list refute the charges. Al Jazeera English reporter Sue Turton, a 25-year veteran of the industry who has reported from Afghanistan, Libya and Ukraine, said she was “astounded” to find out there was a warrant for her arrest.
“I have no allegiance to any political group in Egypt or anywhere else and no desire to promote any one point of view,” Turton said, according to a statement. “I find it quite extraordinary that my stories ... could be seen as assisting a terrorist group.”
In addition to the three Al Jazeera English journalists who have been in custody for more than a month, two employees of the network’s Arabic channels, Abdullah al-Shami and Mohamed Badr, have been in detention for nearly five months.
Al-Shami has reportedly been on a hunger strike for three weeks.
Last week, Greste wrote a letter from Tora Prison that described the conditions he and his colleagues are facing, but he also warned that similar persecution of journalists was widespread in Egypt.
"The state will not tolerate hearing from the Muslim Brotherhood or any other critical voices," he wrote. "The prisons are overflowing with anyone who opposes or challenges the government."
Press freedom advocates have roundly blasted Egypt and warned that the Al Jazeera detentions are merely a flashpoint in a much wider crackdown on dissent under the rule of military strongmen.
“Journalists cannot operate freely in a climate of fear,” Amnesty International’s secretary general, Salil Shetty, said in a release last week. “The latest development is a brazen attempt to stifle independent reporting in Egypt.” In the statement, Amnesty called the crackdown on journalism “an alarming escalation on press freedom” since Morsi was deposed.
The White House on Tuesday echoed the chorus of rights groups calling for the journalists’ immediate release.
“These figures, regardless of affiliation, should be protected and permitted to do their jobs freely in Egypt,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told Al Jazeera at a White House briefing. “We have strongly urged the government to drop these charges and release those journalists and academics who have been detained.”