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The Al Jazeera English case and the safety of journalists

By Andrea Baker - posted Thursday, 24 September 2015

The recent UNESCO Safety of Journalists agenda is a key plank in the case involving the Al Jazeera English trio who were convicted on terrorism charges in Egypt recently.

After a 19 months legal circus (of trial, and then retrial) on 29 August 2015 the Egyptian High court finally ruled that the Al Jazeera journalists, Australian, Peter Greste, (Reporter), Canadian Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy (bureau chief) and local Egyptian, Baher Mohamed (producer) were guilty of reporting false news about Egypt, associating with the blacklisted, Muslim Brotherhood and working without media accreditation.

Greste and Fahmy were sentenced to 3 years in prison, while Mohammed was given 6 months extra, because he was allegedly found with a spent bullet when the trio was arrested in Cairo in December 2013.


Saturday's verdict watered down the initial sentencing from 23 June 2014, where the trio were found guilty and Greste and Fahmy were sentenced to jail for 7 years and Mohamed was given 10 years.

Greste, who was tried in absentia following his deportation back to Australia in February 2015, and Canadian Egyptian Fahmy who remains in the country, now have 1 year and 10 months left of their prison sentence to serve, while Mohamed has 2 years and 4 months.

Despite the reduction in sentencing, the initial charges against the journalists remain the same. At the heart of these charges lies the question, why weren't they accredited to work in Egypt?

In December 2013 the trio were working from a media bunker in Marriot hotel in Cairo because their local offices (Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr, the Arabic version of C-Span) were subject to a series of raids and closed down by local police.

From this bunker, which the Egyptian authorities nicknamed the "Marriott Cell", the journalists stand accused of illegally mastering a grand conspiracy against the authoritarian regime.

As the UN agency with a specific mandate to defend freedom of expression and press freedom, UNESCO also actively promotes the safety of journalists and those who produce journalism.


On 13 July 2015, UNESCO held its first session on the Safety of Journalists during the annual International Association of Media and Communications (IAMCR) conference in Montreal, Canada.

This session was linked to the UN plan of action to end impunity against journalists. According to UNESCO's data, more than 700 journalists and media workers have been killed in the last 10 years.

As Greste said during the #FreeAJStaff campaign which triggered over 6 billion page impressions, "Rarely have so many of us been imprisoned, beaten up, intimidated or murdered in the course of our duties".

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About the Author

Dr Andrea Jean Baker is an international, award winning radio journalist of over 20 years. She is also recognised as a broadcast journalism and cultural arts historian.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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