Egypt / Al Jazeera trial: United Nations rights expert condemns sentence, urges immediate release of detained journalists

2 September 2015
GENEVA – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, has condemned the three-year sentences handed down by an Egyptian court against journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Bahar Mohamed and Peter Greste. The expert called for the immediate release of  Mr. Fahmy and Mr. Mohamed, who remain in detention.

“The journalists’ detention and subsequent trials have been inconsistent with international human rights law from the start,” Mr. Kaye said on 1 September. “With nearly two dozen other journalists in jails, according to reliable information, these sentences reinforce the sense that freedom of expression is under attack in Egypt.”

Last Saturday, the trial court convicted the journalists of disseminating false information and working without a licence. Both Mr. Fahmy and Mr. Mohamed, who was given an additional six months and a fine for having a spent bullet casing from a demonstration in his possession, have been taken back into custody.  Mr. Greste was deported earlier this year.

Their convictions come after a retrial was ordered by the Court of Cassation earlier in the year because of a number of “procedural flaws during the previous sentences.” The oral verdict issued Saturday is expected to be followed by a written one within thirty days.

“Freedom of expression plays a central role in the effective functioning of a democratic political system,” Mr. Kaye noted. “Egypt has a responsibility under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights* to protect a media that is free to impart information and ideas of all kinds.”

Although Egypt’s Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, Kaye expressed alarm at the increasing intimidation, harassment and prosecution of both international and national media and civil society activists, which is hindering their ability to operate freely in the country.

“Reports of the verdict indicate at least two major legal flaws,” Mr. Kaye added. “The broadcasting of information should never be restricted, certainly not without evidence of a serious immediate threat to a legitimate national security interest. And the lack of licensing should at most result in an administrative measure; it should never be the basis of a criminal prosecution.”

“This verdict sends a signal that, despite international and constitutional guarantees, freedom of expression is not respected in Egypt,” the UN rights expert stated. The Special Rapporteur further said that he hoped that the Government sees this serious international concern and takes steps to release the journalists held today.

 “They have simply been reporting on issues about which Egyptians and people worldwide have a right to know,” he emphasized. “They should be protected, not prosecuted.”

Mr. Kaye’s call has been endorsed by the Chair-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Seong-Phil Hong.

(*) Check the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:

David Kaye (USA) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in August 2014 by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The UN Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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