[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye [official profile] spoke out [press release] Tuesday against prison sentences handed down to three Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt earlier this week. Mohamed Fahmy, Bahar Mohamed and Peter Greste received [JURIST report] three-year prison sentences for their roles in releasing video footage that allegedly contained false news in support of the Muslim Brotherhood [BBC backgrounder]. Kaye said the detentions and arrests violate international human rights law and that Egypt has a duty to protect the journalists under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text]. Additionally, he stated that the cases had several procedural flaws and urged the Egyptian government to release the journalists immediately.
The prosecution and subsequent imprisonment of journalists by the Egyptian government has garnered widespread criticism from governments and rights groups worldwide. In August Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi approved [JURIST report] a 54-article counter-terrorism law which has been met with significant controversy, as many believe it infringes on the freedom of the press. Many have said that the law defines [AP report] “terrorism” broadly and it imposes harsh sentences and fines on violators. Al Jazeera reported that some of the fines exceed USD $25,000 and will be levied against journalists who broadcast reports that contradict the government. Al Jazeera argues this crackdown on freedom of the press could effectively dissolve small news agencies in Egypt and deter them from reporting important events for fear of governmental retaliation. Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] criticized [JURIST report] Egypt’s new counterterrorism law saying it infringes on freedom of the press. HRW opposes the fact that the new law gives prosecutors the power to detain suspects without a court order. Last week, Egyptian police arrested [JURIST report] three people under the law for their role in spreading propaganda related to the Islamic State on Facebook.