The recent verdict of an Egyptian criminal court condemning Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste and his media ’cohorts’ seem not to stop generating outcries just yet from various quarters on the international scene. The accused were on 24th June 2014 sentenced to seven years incarceration with some bagging three years more. Greste and producer Mohamed Fahmy were both sentenced to seven years in jail for allegedly spreading lies considered harmful to Egyptian state security and for aiding terrorist group. In addition, they are said to be guilty of manipulating footage to tarnish Egypt’s in the tide of the uprising that saw president Mohammed Morsi ousted. Bahar Mohamed was given three years more just for possessing a spent bullet casing he had found on the ground where hundreds of protesters were shot. Other Al Jazeera journalists sentenced in absentia were Sue Torton and Dominic Kane. The court verdict against the reporters signals a continue resilient crackdown on dissent not only limited to activists and opponents of the regime. Many observers have viewed the latest development as black days for media and freedom in Egypt. This is a situation that is overly embarrassing for the new administration of president Abdel Fattah al Sisi. Sisi promised to continue the democratic steak that started under the first democratically held Egyptian that saw Morsi emerge president. Sisi was of course part of that government as the minister of Defence and Army Chief . One would expect the Al-Nour party elite’s unconditional commitment to democratic due process at all levels of government especially in a sensitive dispensation defining transition between the bloody aftermath of a displeasing regime and the new order, democracy. It would be recalled that thousands of Egyptians were killed in the uprising that trailed Morsi’s abduction and trial. Sisi’s body language does not suggest he sensed gross injustice at the court’s ruling after he rejected to exercise the power of incumbency (at Greste family’s request) explaining the judiciary has to be independent. He was right for recognizing the separation of power among the machineries of government but the inadequacies surrounding the June 24’s ruling boldly spells resolute thrust against assumed antagonists of the government.
As if the system infects with socio-political chronic optic nerve atrophy, it is difficult to see the burning and iridescent hope in the Egyptian judicial system.
In sane climes the press enjoys the freedom to work without fear of punishment or death sanctions even when it appears to offend those with lots of power. Julie Bishop (Australian Prime Minister) expressed her stance in rebuffing the court judgement., “this sort of verdict does nothing to support Egypt’s claims to be on a transition to democracy” because of the punishment meted out to the accused for doing their job.
In the course of the judgement, Greste’s lawyer highlighted countless procedural errors, irregularities and abuses of due process tht “should have had the entire case thrown out of many times over” but the observation wasn’t enough to change judge Mohamed Nagy Shehata who delivered the verdict without explanation.
Now, in the case that is purportedly said of the judge to defy due process and even “consistently failed to present single piece of concrete evidence to spport” his ruling, every keen observer his the right to suspect the whole process.
One can only feel sorry for Egypt’s infant democracy under the popular Abdel Fattah al Sisi who have the army back him up and several businessmen who own a decent part of the press. He is undoubtedly considered as a strongman able to restore peace and order in Egypt after three years of hopeless political turmoil but things are not going right. A crackdown on the media will aptly taint Egypt’s democracy claim.
The ongoing reconstruction process after the unrest aims at sustainable development of Egypt’s economy and politics through good governance. To this, freedom of the press as I see it is part of the catalyst that prompts good governance. The government in its best democratic interests should not afford to flirt with its essence. If June 24’s verdict is not revoked, it might be considered as a deliberate violation of the accused rights. Needless to say there is an overlapping interaction between human right abuses in countries where there is no freedom of the press. Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia & Azerbaijan are examples. Despite democratic elections in these countries the media is often restricted or controlled by government censorship begging the question, how democratic are they really? The press should be seen as a referee of democracy and soldier of the truth. It is however ridiculous that the press, over the years, has bore the brunt of acrimony between belligerent parties in the comity of nations.
Critics believe the journalists were targeted as a result of a political rift between Qatar and Egypt over last summer’s military coup that ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. It is perceived that they were being punished from the political position of Al Jazeera’s Qatari owners because of Qatar’s links to the Muslim Brotherhood (the oldest & largest opposition group)
It however remains to be seen if ICJ’s jurisdiction extends to this tight scenario.
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