Egypt charges 20 Al Jazeera journalists with running terrorist cell

 

McClatchy Foreign Staff

Egyptian authorities on Wednesday charged 20 journalists who work for the Al Jazeera satellite news channel, including five who hold foreign citizenship, with being agents of the Muslim Brotherhood and accused them of plotting to defame Egypt and of running a terrorist cell out of a luxurious Cairo hotel.

If convicted, they might face life in prison.

Among those charged were Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian who was the news channel’s acting Egypt bureau chief, and Peter Greste, an Australian who was the channel’s English-language correspondent. Both are well known internationally and have worked for Britain’s BBC. Fahmy, who’s worked for CNN, McClatchy and The New York Times, is the author of a respected book on Egyptian politics. Two Britons and a Dutch citizen also were charged.

The charges shocked local and international journalists, human rights groups, the families of those detained and even some Egyptians, and they dashed any hopes that the military-backed government would embrace the freedom of speech referenced in a newly ratified constitution.

The state prosecutor’s formal filing of accusations – by far the most serious charges leveled against journalists – signaled that those who cover opponents of the government might face imprisonment as terrorists alongside the nation’s worst criminals.

Since the military ousted former President Mohammed Morsi last July, the government has undertaken a massive crackdown on his supporters and other political dissidents that’s resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands of arrests. One Egyptian human rights group has estimated that more than 21,000 people have been detained. Two journalism advocacy groups said there had been at least 30 incidents of journalists being harassed or arrested for doing their work so far this month.

“Security forces are still repressing journalists in an unprecedented manner,” the Egyptian Journalist Syndicate said in a statement issued before the charges were announced.

The government has particular disdain for Al Jazeera, which it considers a Muslim Brotherhood mouthpiece. Within hours of Morsi’s ouster, the military shut down the network’s operations in Egypt.

Four of those charged – Greste, Fahmy and two Egyptians, Bahar Mohamed and Mohamed Fawzy – were arrested Dec. 29 at Al Jazeera’s makeshift offices in the Marriott Hotel in Cairo, one of the city’s most luxurious hotels. Fawzy was released days later but the others remain in Tora prison, which is reserved for Egypt’s worst criminals.

The statement from the state prosecutor’s office said five more of those charged had been arrested – though it didn’t name them – and that warrants had been issued for the remaining 12, though it’s unclear whether they’re in the country.

In its statement, the state prosecutor’s office divided the charges between Egyptians and non-Egyptians, saying that together the group had orchestrated the “Marriott terror cell.” The non-Egyptians are alleged to have trained their Egyptian counterparts in using cameras, computers and other technology to produce false news.

The non-Egyptians colluded with the Egyptian defendants “and provided them with information, equipment and money, as well as broadcasting false information and rumors to convince the international community that Egypt was undergoing a civil war,” the statement charged.

Despite his dual Canadian citizenship, Fahmy was charged as an Egyptian.

The Egyptians were accused of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the secret organization through which Morsi ascended to the presidency. On Dec. 25, the government declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

“The general prosecution has charged the Egyptian defendants with crimes of belonging to a terrorist organization in violation of the law, calling for disrupting the law and preventing state institutions from conducting their affairs; assault on the personal liberties of citizens and damaging national unity and social peace; using terrorism as a means to implement its purposes,” Wednesday’s statement read.

Among the evidence against the group, the statement said, were accounts by experts who said filmed news events had been manipulated.

Greste has written two letters during his detention, calling the mounting case against him an attack on freedom of the press.

He’s held in better conditions than Mohamed and Fahmy are, but authorities denied a last-minute appeal Wednesday by Al Jazeera for his release.

Mohamed and Fahmy have been in solitary confinement alongside jihadists such as Mohammed al Zawahiri, the brother of al Qaida head Ayman al Zawahiri. Fahmy and Mohammed haven’t been allowed beds, outdoor light, regular exercise or books. After a series of bombings in Cairo last Friday, guards removed all items from their cells, including food that their families had provided. Fahmy, who fractured his arm the week before his arrest, hasn’t been allowed medical care, according to family members.

Fahmy’s mother, who arrived in Egypt earlier this month from Montreal, visited him Wednesday. She said his clothes were dirty and his spirit appeared to have been broken.

She said prison officials had shaved his head, and that he wasn’t being allowed to shave and now sported a short beard.

His family was devastated by the news of the charges against him. “I’m in complete shock,” said his brother, Adel, who lives in Kuwait.

In perhaps a sign of the fear the case has generated, Fahmy’s lawyer told McClatchy on Wednesday that he no longer wants to be publicly identified with the case. The lawyer declined to answer when he was asked why he’d reassured Fahmy’s family and friends for the past month that prosecutors no longer thought his client was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ismail is a McClatchy special correspondent. Youssef reported from Washington. Twitter: @AminaIsmail, @nancyayoussef

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
FILE - In this July 25, 2012 file photo, Artur Mas, president of the Catalan regional government, speaks during an extraordinary parliamentary session on the fiscal pact at the Parliament of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Mas are holding a crucial face-to-face meeting on Wednesday, July 30, 2014, in what could be a last chance for the two men to resolve a bitter dispute over the region’s plans to hold a secession referendum in November.

    Spanish, Catalonia leaders meet on secession push

    Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the leader of the economically powerful Catalonia region are holding a crucial face-to-face meeting Wednesday in what could be a last chance to resolve a bitter dispute over the region's plans to hold a secession referendum in November.

  •  
Smoke from the explosion of an Israeli strike rises over a U.N. school at Jebaliya refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip, where  Palestinian displaced people had found refuge, on Tuesday, July 29, 2014. The school is one of dozens of emergency shelters for those who have fled the fighting. About 180,000 Palestinians_about 10 percent of the entire population of Gaza_are seeking shelter in over 80 UNRWA schools, according to United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs' July 28 report.

    AP ANALYSIS: Amid war, endgames in Gaza emerge

    The savage fighting between Israel and Hamas is escalating in Gaza, cease-fire efforts take on elements of farce, and bravado rules the public discourse. But even through the fog of war, a few endgame scenarios can nonetheless be glimpsed.

  •  
Palestinian walk by a damaged classroom at the Abu Hussein U.N. school in Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, after being hit by an Israeli strike, on Wednesday, July 30, 2014. Several Israeli tank shells slammed into the crowded U.N. school used as shelter for refugees in the Gaza war early on Wednesday, a Palestinian health official and a U.N. official said.

    Shells hit UN school in Gaza, kill 15

    Israeli tank shells slammed into a crowded U.N. school sheltering Gaza war refugees Wednesday, killing 15 Palestinians and wounding 90 after tearing through two classroom walls, a health official and a spokesman for a U.N. aid agency said.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category