SHAFAQNA- After serving almost 400 days for a crime he did not commit, Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste has been released from an Egyptian prison. The Australian Greste, along with Al-Jazeera colleagues Mohamed Fahmy, an Egyptian-Canadian dual citizen, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian, had been charged with disseminating “false news” and purportedly supporting a “terrorist” organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood, which won Egypt’s first democratic elections. Two were sentenced to seven years behind bars, the other to ten years.
Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said that all three faced “trumped up charges” and were forced to endure a “farcical trial” marred by irregularities. “It has become increasingly clear that the journalists have been used as political pawns in a dispute between the authorities of Egypt and the Qatar government, which owns the Al-Jazeera network,” she declared. “It is unacceptable that the lives of these men have been so carelessly toyed with.”
The release of Greste is a very positive development, and human rights and press freedom advocates around the world should relish this victory, but not for too long. Apart from anything else, the journalists with whom Greste was arrested and imprisoned on the same charges are still in prison. While Al-Jazeera wrote that it “welcomed” Greste’s release, it continues to demand the release of his colleagues. Amnesty maintains that the continuing plight of Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy must not be forgotten, even as Greste is deported from Egypt.
Although Baher Mohamed, who missed the birth of his son in August last year, does not have the privilege of dual citizenship, Greste and Fahmy do, and so they can be deported. Mohamed has nowhere else to go.
It has not gone unnoticed that only the non-Arab among the imprisoned Al-Jazeera journalists has been freed. As one Twitter user wrote, “…only the white correspondent was released. Why? Cause ‘white lives matter’ & Sisi knows it”.
It is a fact that the Western media has demonstrated time and time again that it cares exponentially more about imprisoned Australians and Canadians than it does about imprisoned Egyptians.
Even Westerners of colour are not afforded the same media concern. Mohamed Soltan, with dual Egyptian-American citizenship and raised in the US Midwest, was arrested by the Sisi regime for engaging in peaceful protest. Soltan has been on hunger strike for a year, and the evidence suggests strongly that he has been tortured.
Moreover, Al-Jazeera’s are not the only journalists to have been imprisoned unjustly by Al-Sisi’s government. The Committee to Protect Journalists – which tends to be conservative in its estimates – has documented 12 cases of journalists being imprisoned in Egypt in 2014. This follows a year of even harsher repression for the profession.
On 3 July 2014, exactly one year after the then General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi overthrew Egypt’s democratically-elected government, Amnesty published a statement noting that the “rampant torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions” signal a catastrophic decline in human rights after the ousting of Morsi.
WikiThawra, a project conducted by the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, estimated that, between July 2013 and mid-May 2014, over 40,000 Egyptians were detained or indicted. The independent Cairo-based NGO holds that today there are still so many political prisoners languishing in Egyptian prisons; some of them are children. A representative of UNICEF-Egypt told the Global Post that the UN body had “recorded over 700 cases of children who have been detained in multiple locations in Egypt in connection with political events.” While we celebrate the freeing of Peter Greste, therefore, let us not forget them.
Nor should we forget that despite these well-documented crimes, Egypt remains a close ally of America and Israel. Even mainstream publications such as the Washington Post have condemned the US government for supporting Al-Sisi’s “violent and cynical regime” and maintaining “a policy of subordinating human rights concerns in Egypt to the US security relationship with the regime.”
For 30 years under the dictator Hosni Mubarak, who was overthrown in 2011 in the 25 January Revolution, Egypt was the second-largest recipient of US aid after Israel. Most of the $2 billion aid every year from 1979 to 2011 went to the repressive Egyptian military.
In the past year, the US has been in the process of resuming full aid to Egypt, amounting to $1.5 billion per year. The Obama administration has already provided the Egyptian military with Apache helicopters, while freedom is denied to US citizens like Mohamed Soltan, along with thousands of innocent Egyptians.