Middle East
5:11 am
Tue January 21, 2014

Egyptian Military Clamps Down On Freedom Of Speech

Originally published on Tue January 21, 2014 11:57 pm

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In Egypt, the military-led government took charge last year with a violent clampdown on Islamists. Since then, it's been targeting many others who criticize its leadership. A high-profile liberal is being charged with a crime over a tweet. And there are at least five journalists behind bars in Egypt, including a team of Al Jazeera English journalists who are being accused of terrorism and other crimes. Egypt is now one of the most dangerous places for reporters to report.

NPR's Leila Fadel has the story of one of them.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Mohamed Fadel Fahmy is a journalist. His family says he was drawn to the job because of his love of adventure. The 39-year-old Egyptian-Canadian has worked for CNN, the BBC and other Western media outlets. He wrote a book about the war in Iraq and he's won awards. Now, his job has landed him behind bars, a prison called Scorpion. His brother is Adel Fahmy.

ADEL FAHMY: He's in very harsh conditions, where he's held in solitary confinement in a very unhygienic cell with so many insects. He doesn't see the sunlight at all.

FADEL: His crime? Speaking to members of the Muslim Brotherhood as sources for stories while he was a producer at Al-Jazeera English. It's something journalists commonly do here. The Muslim Brotherhood supported ousted President Mohamed Morsi who was toppled in a coup in July. But last month, it was declared a terrorist group and shortly after, security forces raided the Marriott Hotel in a swank district of Cairo and arrested Fahmy, his Australian colleague Peter Greste and Egyptian cameraman Baher Mohamed, all are still in jail.

In local media, they're referred to as the Marriot Cell. People who know Mohamed describe him as a fun-loving guy who was just about to get engaged but was trying to make enough money to start a life with his fiancee.

Again, Adel Fahmy.

FAHMY: He's a very normal person with a normal life, seeking always to further his career and to live a happy life.

FADEL: He suffered a fall prior to his incarceration and his shoulder injury was worsened in jail. He's received no medical treatment, his family says. Egypt's authorities are accusing Fahmy and his colleagues of reporting false news to destroy Egypt's image. Now, his brother says, he's also being investigated for feeding false news to his former employer, CNN.

FAHMY: Right now, we don't know what's going to happen and what exactly is being prepared for him or devised. We just feel that this thing is prolonging for a reason and we're very afraid now of what will happen next.

FADEL: Former president Morsi was no friend to the media either and many human rights abuses were committed under his rein. But since Morsi's ouster, many television channels have been closed down and dissenting voices are being silenced, including non-Islamists.

Al-Jazeera also has become enemy number one in Egypt because it is funded by Qatar, which supported the Muslim Brotherhood when it was in power.

Sherif Mansour is the Committee to Protect Journalists' Middle East and North Africa director. He says the case against Fahmy says one thing; that independent journalism in Egypt is now a crime.

SHERIF MANSOUR: Right now, we've seen the most deterioration in press freedom in Egypt since 1992.

FADEL: That means it's worse for journalists in Egypt than it was under Morsi and under former dictator Hosni Mubarak.

MANSOUR: Now it's widened to include editors and journalists and bloggers who are not approving of the government narrative of the situation in Egypt. We've seen the government throw the word terrorism at legitimate journalistic work.

FADEL: And the issue of freedom of expression doesn't just affect journalists, he says. Over the weekend, a liberal politician who was once a darling of the Egyptian press and quite a heartthrob too, was charged with insulting the judiciary. It's because he condemned on Titter the prosecution of 43 employees of foreign NGOs.

Amr Hamzawy was critical of the Brotherhood but since Morsi's ouster, he has also been critical of the military. In response to his criminal charge he wrote a column in which he made a promise: I will never agree for the truth to be silenced as long as I live, and I will continue using the tools at my disposal to call upon the people to wake up, to demand justice, and to oppose tyranny.

Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.

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