Letter to press syndicate council

Date : Sunday, 14 January, 2018

January 2018
Mr. Abdel Mohsen Salama
Head, Syndicate of Journalists
4, Abdel Khalq tharwat, Down Town, Cairo
Subject: Situation of imprisoned journalists in Egypt.

The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) is writing to you to inform you of the situation of imprisoned journalists in Egypt, demanding that you seek to ensure the freedom of those journalists, who are harshly treated by the authorities for carrying out their journalistic profession. AFTE hopes that you will ensure the right of every journalist to work freely without restriction of personal freedom or threat to his/her physical safety.

AFTE is a group of lawyers and researchers, registered as an Egyptian legal entity since 2006 that works in the defense of freedom of expression and promotion of freedom of exchange of information.

There are various violations against journalists, notably arbitrary arrest, which is one of the frequent patterns of violations monitored and documented by many human rights institutions in recent years, as well as was indicated by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in one of his speeches, where he called for a revision of cases of imprisoned students. Journalists are among the groups that have been subjected to random arrests on many occasions.

We also wish to inform you that journalists are directly targeted by security authorities, and the most vulnerable categories of journalists are photojournalists. Journalists are also directly targeted against the background of investigative reports, as was the case with journalist Ismail Al-Iskandarani, currently in precautionary detention, because of his press reports on the situation in North Sinai. A number of journalists and media workers are now behind bars in the Raba’a operation room, Mekamelin 1 and 2 cases, which constitutes targeting media workers that the state considers to be undermining security and stability. Among them is Mahmoud Hussein, who is being held in custody in case No. 11152 for the year 2016, because of his work as a news producer in the Qatari Al-Jazeera channel.

In addition, investigating bodies use precautionary detention as a punishment in itself and not a precautionary measure, since most arrested journalists are subjected to long period of precautionary detention, extending beyond the maximum duration of two years before referral to trial. There are in fact cases of journalists who spent a long period of precautionary detention, some of which extended beyond a year, before their innocence was proved or were released pending trials, including journalists Ahmed Gamal Ziada who spent 500 days in precautionary detention before the court acquitted him in the case known the media as “Al-Azhar university events” in December 2013.

In order for the proceedings not to be unconstitutional and to avoid accusations of incarcerating journalists, investigative authorities, based on inquiries from the Interior Ministry, uses accusations that are very similar in all cases of imprisoned journalists: joining the banned Muslim Brotherhood group and demonstrating without authorization, in addition to the accusations related to the practice of the profession, which is always in the form of dissemination of false news, statements and rumors aimed at undermining security and stability.

We would like to draw your attention in particular to the case of photojournalist  Mahmoud Abu Zayd “Shawkan”, who is serving his fourth year in prison in precautionary detention. Shawkan suffers from a very bad health condition due to a chronic disease “Thalassemia”. He needs continuous medical care, which is not granted by the prison administration, which refused to transfer him to hospital, and does not follow the necessary rules for his treatment. Attached is a copy of his medical condition.

AFTE calls upon the head of the journalists’ syndicate Abdel Mohsen Salama and members of the syndicate council to respond to the call by 5 members of the council, submitted to the chair on 25 December 2017, for an urgent meeting of the council during 48 hours according to the bylaws of the syndicate; and that the council remain in permanent session to discuss the nine points listed in the submission, and others, and provide solutions to these crises urgently.

AFTE also calls upon the Council of the Journalists Syndicate to place the file of imprisoned journalists on the agenda of upcoming meetings and to reach solutions as a priority without delays. AFTE recommends that the Council discuss all cases of imprisoned journalists and not only those who were arrested after the election of the new Council in March 2017. The Journalists Syndicate Council must seek to improve the conditions of imprisonment of journalists until their release, as well as to follow up on their receiving the necessary medical care, especially the two journalists Mahmoud Abdel Shakour Abu Zaid (Shawkan) and Sabri Anwar Adel, where the first suffers from a chronic blood disease “Thalassemia”, and the second of kidney stones; both are denied the necessary medical care by prison administration.

Finally, AFTE  recommends that the Syndicate Council should communicate with concerned authorities to stop the harassment of journalists by holding them for long periods of time in pretrial detention ranging from one year to two years before referring them to a trial, which may eventually prove their innocence or release them, as was the case with photographer Ahmed Gamal Ziada and the journalist of Karamoz news website in Alexandria, both of whom were released court, the former after 500 days in custody and the latter after more than two years, confirming the abuse of pre-trial detention as a punitive measure against journalists rather than as a precautionary measure to safeguard investigations.

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