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Human Rights Commissioner Strässer concerned about sentencing of journalists in Egypt

31.08.2015

The Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, Christoph Strässer, issued the following statement on 31 August on his increasing concern about the restriction of the freedom of opinion and of the press in Egypt:

I am concerned by reports that the three-year sentence of imprisonment handed down to Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste was upheld by a court of appeal in Cairo on 29 August 2015.

In the wake of the counter-terrorism law that entered into force on 17 August 2015, this represents a continuation of a worrying trend towards restricting the freedom of opinion and of the press. To our mind, these restrictions of fundamental rights run counter to the important efforts undertaken by the Egyptian Government to achieve stability within the country’s borders. The freedom of opinion and of the press must be protected at all costs, also and especially in difficult times.

Background information:

The counter-terrorism law (law 94/2015), which is also controversial in Egypt, entered into force on 17 August 2015. Among other provisions, the legislation stipulates that journalists will face heavy fines should their coverage on specific topics not be in line with official statements. The Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, Christoph Strässer, criticised this law on 17 August 2015.

The Al Jazeera journalists Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste were arrested in December 2013 and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for “spreading false news”. The court of appeal found that the accused were not journalists according to Egyptian law as they were not registered with a press union. In addition to the allegation of spreading false news, they were accused of using non‑registered equipment and producing videos with intent to disrupt public order. The trial revolved around accusations that the defendants had supported terrorism and conspired with the forbidden Muslim Brotherhood, allegations that were not substantiated by the prosecuting authorities, however. 

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