Buzzing Al Jazeera newsrooms came to a standstill Monday, marking one year since Al Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were detained on terrorism charges in Egypt.
Al Jazeera condemns the sentencing, arguing that it is a journalist’s job to get all sides of the story — and that the channel is objective regarding the actions of its funder, Qatar.
“Al Jazeera is a media institution,” said Mostef Souag, acting director-general of the Al Jazeera Media Network. “We work in so many different places, and we should be taken as a professional media institution, not as part of any political or ideological or any other establishment.”
The three men’s prolonged detention underscores the plight of journalists worldwide, with many places like Egypt treating press freedom as just an idea, not an exercisable right.
From prison, Peter Greste wrote a letter to the public. “We … have created a huge global awareness of not just our cause but the far wider and more vital issues of press freedom, the persecution of journalists and of justice in Egypt,” he wrote. “We have galvanized an incredible coalition of political, diplomatic and media figures as well as a vast army of social media supporters to fight for that most basic of rights: the right to know.”
Jane Worthington, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Asia-Pacific office’s acting director, praised Greste’s statement.
“Journalists are under attack, and Peter, he described it perfectly in his paper when he said that journalists are no longer at the front line — they are the front line,” she said. “We are just about to release the IFJ kill list of the year, and there are over 100 journalists who lost their lives doing their jobs.”
What the Al Jazeera journalists did — and what the Egyptian government calls a crime — was interview members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an opposition group banned in Egypt shortly after Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s takeover.
His crackdown on dissent has been fierce. Senior officials in Egypt’s Interior Ministry estimated earlier this year that more than 16,000 Egyptians have been arrested for political reasons.
Qatar has been a longtime supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, backing Egypt’s ousted President Mohamed Morsi.
Now, with the help of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt are negotiating a sort of truce.
“Egypt means a lot for us,” said Khalid bin Mohamed al-Attiyah, Qatar’s minister of foreign affairs. “A strong, capable and healthy Egypt is a support for Arabs."
Last week Al Jazeera suspended its satellite broadcasts focused on Egypt. That decision came after an envoy from Qatar met with Sisi.
To free the imprisoned Al Jazeera journalists, Sisi could issue a pardon, but he has said he will not interfere with the judicial process.
The appeals process continues this Thursday with a procedural hearing. It is slated to examine how the law was applied in their cases.
What is the future of press freedom in Egypt and the rest of the world?
Are Al Jazeera’s journalists being punished by Egypt for the Qatari government’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood?
We consulted our on-air panel of experts to get the Inside Story.