Jailed Al Jazeera journalists. Picture source: Al Jazeera.
It has happened. Again.
Once again, relatives waiting anxiously.
Once again, a courtroom packed with journalists covering a verdict. A verdict affecting so many.
Once again are journalists, simply for doing their jobs, sentenced to prison.
As their sentences was declared, the faces of those present turned white. Tears began falling down the faces of their relatives, and everyone following the verdict at Twitter was stunned; for Al Jazeeras Baher Mohamed was sentenced to ten years, and Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy to seven.
What crime had these journalists committed? What kind of crime gave these harsh prison terms?
The answer is that they had done nothing more than giving us our news.
They had covered protests.They had reported from the happenings after president Mohamed Morsi had been removed from power.
Still, in trials, they were accused of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to broadcast “false news” about the situation in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood had supported the former president and had been declared a terrorist organization.
Apparently, interviewing some persons, but not others, will get you locked up behind bars.
So called evidence has been presented. According to Al Jazeera, it included a music video and footage from reports with nothing to do with the case. That the journalists have been cutting their raw footage using a video-editing software has by Egyptian “media experts” been viewed as modification. During each trial, the judge has been wearing sunglasses, and the journalists have been forced to sit in cages. Baher Mohamed received an additional three years for having a spent shell in his pocket. He had found it on the ground during one of the protests.
Many of us have been asking ourselves what kind of sick joke these trials are, but whatever you want to call it, it is something that has robbed the freedom of the innocent.
How this can happen – again – is beyond comprehension. These convictions are a crackdown on press freedom, which is fundamental to democracy and human rights. It sends a grim message to all journalists, bloggers and dissenters, that no one is safe.
These sentences are an attack on freedom of speech, a freedom of speech that belongs to all of us. This affects everyone. The sentences are an alarming sign of a negative trend, a plague, spreading across the globe. To silence journalists and freethinkers is to violate one of our most basic human rights; the right to freely express ourselves through speech, thought, writing, film or photography.
In other words – it is an violation of our right to be free.
But still, there is light. The jailings has sparked an outrage. Thousands are protesting in solidarity with the jailed journalists, and the sentences are being condemned in news, blogs and social media. The campaign #freeajstaff has been going on since the arrests, and it will continue until the journalists are free.
The fight has turned global.
Our thoughts are with Peter, Mohamed, Baher and their families.
Don’t miss this documentary about the jailed journalists: