Did Al Jazeera Uphold its Responsibility to its Staff?

Al Jazeera English Newsroom. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
Al Jazeera English Newsroom. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

By: Mohannad Sabry

10-15-2014

[Editor’s Note: This exclusive report presents a comprehensive account of the independent investigations of Egyptian journalist Mohannad Sabry. The mission of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) commits it to supporting freedom of the media; in this interest, TIMEP has offered a platform to showcase Sabry’s findings. Given the continued dangers media workers face in Egypt, including those who remain tied to the Al Jazeera case, it is both the hope of TIMEP and Sabry that this evidence will contribute to a greater awareness about the current media environment in the country. Find TIMEP’s stance on the Al Jazeera journalists’ trial in the June 2014 press release on the issue.]

On February 5, 2014, two months after the arrest of Al Jazeera’s journalists in Egypt, BBC’s NewsNight show hosted Salah Negm, Al Jazeera English’s Director of News; he spoke on air from Doha, Qatar. When Negm was asked if his Cairo journalists were licensed to work in Egypt, his answers were evasive, unclear; the yes or no question elicited neither response.

“The [lack of] accreditation is part of the charges and as I read in the charges here, it is always mentioned that they are not accredited, with the intention of harming national security. Non-accreditation is a simple administrative charge and it doesn’t result in imprisoning journalists or referring them to criminal court,” Negm initially said.

When asked the question again, Negm explained “Al Jazeera media network is officially accredited to work in Egypt; it was working all the time during Mubarak. After the revolution, some of its employees have been accredited and some have applied for accreditation; it happens with all media organizations.”

Several months after the interview, on June 23, 2014, Cairo’s Criminal Court sentenced Mohamed Fahmy, Al Jazeera English’s Egyptian-Canadian Cairo Bureau Chief, and Peter Greste, an Australian correspondent for the channel, to seven years in prison. Their Egyptian producer, Baher Mohamed, was sentenced to ten. Eleven others were sentenced to ten years in absentia. It was one of the biggest blows to the international media community in Egypt in years.

Fahmy, Greste, and Mohamed are only three names in a long list of journalists that have been sentenced to jail, remain in arbitrary detention, or were inexplicably detained for months before their release. Many of those targeted have been accused of not having accreditation.

Negm’s appeal that a lack of accreditation be treated as a minor infraction is strongly supported in the legal and media communities: there is a general consensus that not having sufficient accreditation should never lead to criminal court, let alone jail. This is a minor administrative offense, and in a country of 85 million people, these types of offenses occur at an enormous rate. The detention of press workers for these non-violent, administrative infractions indicates, on some level, a political maneuver.

“[Many Egyptian media] laws and regulations do not only contradict international standards and agreements but also contradict constitutions in most countries,” said Nidal Mansour, the executive director of the Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists. He added that “it’s the case also in Jordan [where I am based] and many other countries.”

“Journalists and press freedom organizations should take legal actions against those unconstitutional regulations, but as long as they exist, the safety of workers should be the top priority of a media organization.”

Time and time again Al Jazeera representatives have failed to directly account for the accreditation of their staff, despite evidence that they are still employing reporters under cover in Egypt. And further investigation has revealed shocking evidence that, beyond mere administrative oversight, this negligence was of primary concern to the journalists that are now paying the price in Egypt’s prisons. The documents referenced in this report reveal that the issue of journalists’ safety was raised at top levels of Al Jazeera management—and patently ignored.

An Egyptian journalist myself, the safety of my colleagues and the safety of all press workers in the country is of utmost concern. I have spent weeks poring through e-mails, trying to contact the families of those in jail, and have formerly attended conferences with Al Jazeera representatives. While I personally, as well as everyone I have interviewed for this report, agree with Negm’s statements that jailing journalists for administrative infractions is an egregious abuse of the law, I have come to the shocking conclusion that Al Jazeera failed to protect its employees despite ample warning of risk from employees, lawyers, and others. In the course of my investigations, I have received no response from Al Jazeera’s top officials to suggest otherwise.

An Early Sign

On September 2, 2013, several Egyptian security officers walked into the the Cairo bureau of Al Jazeera English (AJE), located in the Ramsis Building on the edge of Tahrir Square. The building, which views the River Nile from one side and the Egyptian Museum from another,hosts several broadcasting studios and media offices in addition to that of Al Jazeera.

Abdullah Mousa, AJE’s de facto bureau chief, who carried a valid press accreditation card (Press ID) issued by Egypt’s State Information Service, was not at the office at the time of the police visit. The policemen confiscated several pieces of filming and broadcasting equipment and arrested Mostafa Hawa, one of AJE’s workers in Egypt.

Unlike normal police raids in Cairo, the officers did not shutdown the office and never sealed its door with their usual premises’confiscation mark: a wad of dark red wax. In fact, there were several employees who remained at the office while the officers walked out with Hawa and the confiscated equipment.

The news went viral on Al Jazeera’s various English and Arabic channels and on other media outlets. Within a few hours, Hawa was released from a Cairo Prosecutor’s Office on a 10,000 EGP ($1450 USD) bail, facing charges of “running an unlicensed channel and using unlicensed equipment.”

Mousa, the de facto bureau chief, appeared a day later and called for a meeting with some of his staff at a coffee shop yards away from the office building. The staff briefed Mousa on the prior day’s events; instead of reaching out to the authorities to address an unfolding crisis, Mousa drove straight to Cairo International Airport where he boarded a flight to Doha, Qatar, the home of Al Jazeera’s headquarters, where he remains until today.

Ignoring the Threat

At this time, Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian citizen and award-winning journalist, had just begun working for AJE. After the police’s visit to the office and confiscation of equipment, AJE’s Cairo team, including Fahmy, was moved to the Marriott Hotel in Cairo’s upscale Zamalek neighborhood.

Three days later, on September 5, 2013, senior correspondent Nadim Baba sent an e-mail to AJE’s Cairo mailing list. The e-mail clearly stated that “Doha [headquarters of AJ] confirmed that we closed down the AJE bureau, i.e. it was not closed down by the Egyptian authorities. At some point over the next week we hope to be able to return to the bureau.”

The email was followed by another from Afaf Saoudi, AJE’s Acting Executive Producer for Middle East & North Africa. She confirmed Baba’s correspondence, writing: “This week you will operate from our temporary office in the Marriott then we will reassess next week if it is safe to go back to our office and have business as usual.”

While the nonchalant emails came from Doha, the AJE staff members in Cairo were voicing their serious concerns.

Journalist Heba Fahmy (no relation to Mohamed) sent a sharp reply to Baba, Saoudi, and copied other officials: “I think there is a problem with misinformation and Doha doesn’t understand the severity of the security situation in Cairo and the case against our office assistant Mostafa Hawa.”

She continued, “I would like to stress that AJE is ‘NOT FREE’ to operate in Cairo, because the prosecution considers us as a channel without permits, according to the charges against Mostafa [Hawa] and we CAN NOT return back to the bureau anytime soon, until the prosecution refutes its decision or Mostafa is acquitted,” after explaining the legal procedures and charges Hawa was facing.

A seasoned journalist with experience covering sensitive topics in Egypt and several other countries in the Middle East, Mohamed Fahmy, the newly appointed AJE bureau chief, did understand the severity of the situation. He decided to take the matter directly to the highest level in the chain of command.

On September 7, 2013, Fahmy sent a long email to Salah Negm and Saoudi.

“The staff is very concerned where Al Jazeera stands legally and I would like to be able to comfort them at some point regarding their security and well being.  As you know, the producers yesterday expressed their concern with the security situation and preferred to work from home,” Fahmy explained in the e-mail sent on his second work day.

Fahmy volunteered to meet with Al Jazeera’s lawyers in Egypt and “relay a better understanding” of the situation to the headquarters in Doha, but his entreaties, like those of his colleague Heba Fahmy, appear to have been ignored.

A reply came from Saoudi: “I appreciate your concern about the legal issue but Doha management will deal with it from here.”

At the time of this correspondence only three of AJE’s employees in Cairo had valid accreditation, the two cameramen who worked with Mohamed Fahmy and Hawa, the office assistant who had been previously  detained. Al Jazeera management in Doha had never attempted to acquire the needed credentials to work in Cairo for the other staff.

The two cameramen, Amr Fouad and Mahdi Mohamed, were never arrested and their names were never added to the list of defendants when the trial began. In fact, Egypt’s State Information Service published an official statement attesting that “on December 23, 2013, Al Jazeera English Channel applied a request to renew the accreditation of their team in Cairo, which included two cameramen and one sound specialist, which confirms the non-accreditation of those arrested and the new request did not include any of them.”

Akin to any foreign media worker in Egypt, Fahmy was never able to seek accreditation for himself or his employees because he was not accredited, and the only entity capable of filing for accreditation was Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha. Any reason why Doha headquarters failed to “deal with” securing accreditation as Saoudi suggested they would in her e-mail remains obscure.

“Al Jazeera insisted to fly Peter Greste and others to Cairo on tourist visas and refused to heed Mohamed Fahmy’s calls to file the documents required for accreditation himself,” someone who worked closely on the case said on condition of anonymity. “A week before his arrest, Fahmy wrote the letters that should have been stamped and filed by Al Jazeera’s HQ in Doha to the Egyptian authorities, his letters were once again ignored. The letters were for himself and his team.”

“If the [AJ] administration had at least submitted those letters to the press center then it could have been proven that they didn’t have any intention to avert security,” added the source.

The Licensing Controversy

There are several kinds of foreign media licenses in Egypt, two of which are those issued to foreign media workers by the State Information Service, the sole entity responsible for accrediting and overseeing foreign media, and the license to establish a satellite channel, which is issued by the Investment Ministry, and falls under different laws and regulations.

When the Qatari network started operating in Egypt in 1996, it was very similar to CNN, BBC, and the Associated Press: a foreign media outlet seeking accreditation for its workers who are categorized as foreign media workers even if they carried Egyptian nationalities. Back then the network did not open an office in Cairo but operated through the private owned Cairo News Company (CNC).

“Mohammed Jasim Al-Ali, the first Qatari head of the channel visited me a few months after its launch, he informed me that they will have no office in Egypt and they want me to host and run their operation,” said Nader Gohar, the co-owner and chairman of CNC, known for having won a legal battle against Hosni Mubarak’s last Minister of Information, Anas Al-Fiqqi.

Gohar’s CNC became Al Jazeera’s top service provider in Egypt; it provided the channel with equipment, studios, live broadcasting signals, and even reporters and news packages until the channel opened its first office in Cairo several years later in the Ramsis Building where CNC is located.

“Since that time, Al Jazeera never had a license to operate in Egypt as a satellite channel. The staff members were regularly accredited by the State Information Service just like any other news channel,” said Gohar.

After the January 2011 revolution and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Al Jazeera network launched AJ Mubashir Misr. The new channel was granted an initial license by the Investment Ministry, a document that permits the establishment of a media company if four conditions are met: declaring a joint-stock company with 30-50 million EGP of capital, opening the headquarters in Cairo’s Free Trade Zone, renting a studio at Cairo’s Media Production City, and renting a channel on Egypt’s satellite NileSat.

At the time, several Al Jazeera employees opposed the transition from a foreign media office to a registered company because it would have put them in a different tax category and would have automatically decreased their income by more than 20 percent.

“But even then AJ never met the conditions,” said Gohar. “They illegally opened broadcast studios outside of the Media Production City, their mobile broadcasting units were almost everywhere across Egypt, which requires different permits from security authorities, and their staff were automatically unlicensed after their failure to fulfill the conditions of establishment.”

Gohar says that Al Jazeera was given a free rein to operate illegally because of their solid relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, who occupied 47.5 percent of Egypt’s parliament in November 2011.

“Several other channels in Egypt filed official complaints to the authorities because they had to abide by every law while Al Jazeera broke them all with impunity,” said Gohar.

Despite the outstanding issues with Mubashir Misr, neither the English nor the Arabic channels were granted press identification by the State Information Service whenever they applied for them. And, although Mubashir Misr’s offices and studios were shut down and its NileSat hosting was terminated after Morsi’s ouster, the individual accreditations of AJE and AJA’s workers were never terminated.

“If they had applied for accreditation for Fahmy and his team they would have gotten it, and if the government wanted to shut them down they would have when they raided the office right above me in this building and would have revoked the worker’s valid accreditation, but the government didn’t,” Gohar posited.

“Abdallah Mousa [the bureau chief before Fahmy] flew to Qatar instead of resolving whatever issue there was with the government, the headquarters never did their homework and apply for the accreditation, and the employees are paying the price.”

Neither Gohar nor anyone I met throughout my investigation thought that the lack of licensing justifies the seven and ten year jail sentences for the journalists. Yet the defense of the jailed journalists was hindered by violations that Al Jazeera had been knowingly committing since 2011.

“This is a concern to us because we do not recommend organizations to work in countries without the proper licensing or requirements. Having said that, we as an organization are opposed to most forms of licensing,” said Alison Bethel McKenzie, Executive Director of the International Press Institute.

“The journalists should have been informed on the status of licensing, and if they were working on the impression that their employer was handling their legal status, which is the norm with every other organization, then Al Jazeera should explain why they haven’t handled this matter,” added McKenzie.

AJ Mubashir Misr

For years, Arabs across the Middle East viewed Al Jazeera as the platform that revolutionized the media industry and broke the stagnancy and politicization of state owned media outlets across the region. Some of the Middle East’s most prominent media figures rose to fame while working at the Qatari network.

But after the Arab uprisings in 2011 and the establishment of Mubashir Misr, Al Jazeera began to be viewed as simply another form of politicized and biased media, akin to those controlled by different dictatorships. The network gradually became a political ally for the rising Islamist movements led by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt; it was considered an enemy of the Egyptian military and opposition parties, and accordingly an enemy of Egypt’s allies within the Gulf Cooperation Council who already had their long standing issues with Qatar.

“The case of Al Jazeera’s jailed journalists is a sub-chapter of the Egyptian-Qatari relations, which deteriorated significantly since the time of former President Muhammed Morsi, relations that were already bad under Mubarak,” commented Hassan Nafaa, head of Cairo University’s political science department and a prominent member of Egypt’s opposition.

Al Jazeera, according to Nafaa, “became a main tool for Qatar’s foreign policy, a network that doesn’t criticize Qatar, rarely criticizes Qatari allies, while continuously attacking its political rivals such as Egypt.

“No one can deny Al Jazeera’s leading position among the Middle East’s media networks and the great success it accomplished, but everyone knows that it drives this success to serve Qatari interests. And their bias toward the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is vivid.”

Nafaa described Al Jazeera Mubashir Misr as a channel “led by people who share similar ideologies with the Muslim Brotherhood and consider themselves a part of the political dispute in Egypt.”

“The western world that judges Al Jazeera by watching its English service doesn’t fully realize how biased the network has become in the recent years. And After June 30 and the ouster of Morsi, Qatar was considered an enemy [to Egypt], and Al Jazeera as well,” said Nafaa who continues to accept the network’s invitations to comment on Egyptian events on the condition of speaking live to guarantee that his comments won’t be altered.

Nader Gohar, the chairman of CNC who continues to work with Al Jazeera’s English Channel, terminated his work with Mubashir Misr only three days after its establishment in 2011.

“Ayman Gaballah, the director of Mubashir Misr, visited me when the channel was launched after the resignation of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, and he didn’t hide his affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood or his ideological background,” says Gohar.

“A few days later the channel hired more than 25 people with solid ties to the Muslim Brotherhood organization, the majority of whom weren’t media workers in the first place, so I terminated my agreement with them but continued to work with the Arabic and English channels.”

On July 3, 2013, right after Morsi’s ouster, CNC terminated its agreement with Al Jazeera’s Arabic Channel as well.

“I was outside of Egypt, and when I watched a live report by Abdelfattah Fayed, the head of Al-Jazeera Arabic Channel, claiming that Morsi’s supporters took over the security directorate in Assuit and millions of them are marching in Cairo and elsewhere, I thought that the terrorism of the 1990s has returned… it turned out that none of it was true so I decided to terminate all my work with them.”

Gohar’s decision was followed by the resignation of some 20 Al Jazeera workers, including some the leading presenters, in protest of the channel’s “misleading coverage.”

In an interview with Gulf News right after their resignation, journalist Haggag Salama accused the station of “airing lies and misleading viewers,” while Karem Mahmoud, one of the channel’s top presenters said, “I felt that there were errors in the way the coverage was done, especially that now in Egypt we are going through a critical phase that requires a lot of auditing in terms of what gets broadcasted.”

Al Jazeera had its own way of describing the fiasco:

“Following the recent squeeze on media in Egypt, some Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr staff have decided to leave. We understand the reasons for some employees feeling they need to move on, including those with partisan political opinions,” the network said on its official website.

Fahmy’s Terms

During the first week of July 2013, days after Morsi’s ouster, I received a call from a colleague informing me that Al Jazeera’s English operation would be hiring a producer, an offer he turned down. I also turned it down for two main reasons: the first is that I had accepted a field producer position among the PBS Frontline team that came to Cairo to film what later became the Emmy Award nominee “Egypt in Crisis.”

The second and more important reason is that I sensed how far the Egyptian government’s anger toward Al Jazeera had reached when I met several Ministry of Information workers, including the head of the State Information Service’s Press Office, while submitting the required documentation for accrediting the PBS Frontline team.

Several weeks later I met Mohamed Fahmy and realized that he had already agreed to become Al Jazeera English’s Cairo Bureau Chief. And if I had accepted the producer position a few weeks earlier I would have worked under his command and maybe shared a Tora Prison ward with him, Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed.

I asked him why he accepted and I remember his words clearly: “This is AJ English, we have nothing to do with Mubashir Misr and their issues with the government.”It was not until last week when the unidentified source with great knowledge of the case explained Fahmy’s words.

“Fahmy’s condition before taking the job was clear: no sharing of content between channels and he got assurances from the headquarters in Doha,” said the source.

A few days ago, on October 8, 2014, Fahmy published a letter from his prison cell in Egypt’s leading independent newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm: “When I started working with Al Jazeera English channel, my first condition to accept this position was the legality of the channel’s operation in Egypt and never airing any of the reports I produce on Al Jazeera Mubashir Misr and that my job doesn’t entail any work with them, because I know that the channel is officially shut down by a court ruling.”

But apparently that line Fahmy believed to be clear between the AJE and Mubashir Misr channels did not exist; whatever assurances he may have received from Doha did not stand.

On September 27, 2013, almost three weeks after he started his job as Bureau Chief and several weeks after Mubashir Misr was formally banned by a court ruling, Fahmy was surprised to see that one of his team’s reports was airing on Mubashir Misr. Once again, he took his grievances to the top officers.

“Our AJE package ran at least five times but last night I noticed that the package was voiced into Arabic and broadcast on Al Jazeera Mubashir Misr. Please excuse my inquiry if this is normal protocol in the network but I would imagine that due to the security situation this action may come back to bite us,” Fahmy said in an email he sent to Negm, Saoudi, and Heather Allan, the Head of Newsgathering.

Salah Negm replied: “I will handle this. Thank you for alerting me.”

After Fahmy’s complaint several AJE workers threatened that they would resign from their jobs over the incident—an incident which was never resolved as the English team’s content continued to air on Mubashir Misr.

Media workers from various networks agreed that Al Jazeera has the right to use its content in whichever way they see fit, but they all agreed that in times of crisis and security unrest, the administration should take into consideration the consequences of using the content and the security of their staff should be their top priority.

“I believe that the police raided the English office because the now-illegal Mubashir Misr continued to air materials produced by the English teams, and I was surprised to see this happening again when Fahmy was in office.” said Gohar.

“Al Jazeera framed its English staff as Mubashir Misr.”

The Trial             

While Gohar believes that Mubashir Misr’s malpractice, biased content, and the network’s failure to assess the consequences of sharing content between the different channels put the English Channel’s workers at risk, Al Jazeera’s long time lawyer, Farag Fathi, who quit half way through the trial, believes that “Mubashir Misr led Fahmy and his colleagues to jail.”

“When the police arrested them they claimed that they are working for the illegal Mubashir Misr, and accordingly our main defense policy was to show the judiciary that those are Al Jazeera English workers and have nothing to do with the ban on the other channel,” said Fathi, who represented Al Jazeera in several cases until his resignation.

It was clear that Mohamed Fahmy also understood how this approach could be his and the team’s only way out. He continued to stress that he works for the English Channel in every one of his statements and even posts on his Twitter account.

“I clearly told Mostafa Souag [the Director of Al Jazeera Network] and Salah Negm [the Director of News at AJE] that Mubashir Misr, its content and its administration have to stay away from this case,” said Fathi.”But they ignored my advice.”

Fahmy had hired another lawyer, Khaled Abu Bakr, an Egyptian-French national who is also a talk show host at one of the Middle East’s most viewed satellite channels.

The unidentified source said that Fahmy and his family “weren’t convinced at all with the lawyers chosen by Al Jazeera for the case. They thought they weren’t qualified enough to take on what the regime considered a terrorism and national security case.”

“Fahmy wanted a lawyer that had close ties to the government and prosecutor’s office and who had some clout. Khaled Abu Bakr is an internationally-accredited lawyer known for his pro-government position, and he used his talk-show to shed light on the case in an attempt to sway public opinion toward the reporters,” the source added.

Even Amal Alamuddin, prominent human rights defender and lawyer of Wiki Leaks’ Julian Assange, agreed to represent Fahmy. She submitted a nine-page document highlighting the international human rights violations that took place in the case especially those related to negligence that led to Fahmy’ permanent arm disability.

But Fathi, Abu Bakr, and Alamuddin’s collective work would remain ineffective if Al Jazeera didn’t cooperate.

“Al Jazeera wanted a legal team they can control, one that follows their political stance and would not turn on the network and victimize the journalists,” said the source. This is exactly what happened with Fathi and led to his resignation.

According to the source, “The families of Fahmy, Greste and Baher voiced their concerns to Al Jazeera’s administration, the three asked for Mubashir Misr to stop using their case to criticize the Egyptian regime. Their complaints were heard but never heeded, and it’s clear that all this mess is caused by Al Jazeera Mubashir Misr.”

Two months before the end of the trial and despite the pleas of families, lawyers and the imprisoned journalists, Al Jazeera decided to escalate its attack on the Egyptian regime and took legal action. Al Jazeera served Egypt with a Notice of Dispute in April 2014, demanding $150 million USD in compensation for its losses in Egypt.

“This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I advised them that such action will significantly harm the journalists. And it did,” said Fathi who, after a heated confrontation with several Al Jazeera top officials, decided to quit.

“I quit because my client [Al Jazeera] is not keen on the release of their employees, which contradicts my job and ethics of working to prove the innocence of a defendant,” Fathi said in the resignation request filed to the court.

“Fahmy told me that I am harming him. I told him I am not and said that I am alerting him to the fact that Al Jazeera wants him in jail, it’s a major political card for them with which they would continue to attack Egypt,” said Fathi.

“The families were furious and so were Fahmy and his colleagues. No one had consulted or even informed the families. And the one person who knew and complained about it, Fathi, was once again ignored,” said the source.

Fahmy’s family posted his opinion publicly on Twitter: “It angers me that Qatar raised a $150 million suit against Egypt while I was hanging on a thread in the cage.”

Capitalizing on the Victims

At the time of Fahmy and Greste’s arrests from Cairo’s famous Marriott Hotel, another team of police officers was on the way to arrest Baher Mohamed from his house. A third team was arresting some others whose alleged crimes amounted to possession of camera and broadcasting equipment and who most probably did not know who Fahmy, Greste, and Mohamed were. Among those who were put together with Fahmy and his colleagues was Anas Al-Beltagi, the son of Mohammed Al-Beltagi, a top Muslim Brotherhood figure.

In an attempt to prove the trumped-up charges of working for and financing the Muslim Brotherhood organization, Egypt’s State Security Investigations decided to put everyone on trial for the same charges, even though they were detained in different locations and the prosecution offered no evidence linking both groups to each other.

“One of our main demands was to separate those who were detained in other areas from the journalists, but the court never accepted it,” said Fathi, who represented Greste and Mohamed until his resignation.

The Egyptian security authorities used this case as an opportunity to crack down on both Al Jazeera’s operation in Egypt and the media community in general, and they did.

“We are facing an irrational regime that violates freedoms of expression every day. They committed a major mistake by detaining those journalists and failed to know how prominent they are before accusing them of such nonsense,” said Khaled Al-Balshi, a prominent Egyptian journalist and member of the board of directors of Egypt’s Press Syndicate.

“But Al Jazeera is capitalizing on this case as much as the Egyptian government is, and they are making it more difficult for those trying to defend them by giving Egypt’s authorities reasons to do what it is doing.”

Al-Balshi has spoken and worked in support of every single member of Al Jazeera Network detained in Egypt since Morsi’s ouster, and he filed an official complaint to Egypt’s General Prosecutor demanding the release of Fahmy and his colleagues. Al-Bashi would not comment on Al Jazeera’s way of handling this case but spoke of his personal experiences with the network.

“When Mohamed Badr Eddin, another Al Jazeera journalist, was detained in August 2013, Egypt’s Press Syndicate interfered immediately to guarantee his release; we demanded Al Jazeera to issue us a letter confirming that he is their cameraman and they didn’t.”

“It took them [Al Jazeera] more than a month to issue the letter, while they played the news of Badr Eddin’s arrest every day. He was finally released when the letter that we demanded on day one was issued more than a month later,” said Al-Balshi, who believes that “Al Jazeera inexplicably failed to protect the detained employee and seemed as if it wanted to use the detention of its worker for its own interests.”

“Al Jazeera continues to employ a number of people without any permits and uses the content without any regard to their safety,” added Al-Balshi, who has decided to boycott the network due to their “highly politicized and biased content.”

“I boycotted the network but continue to advocate for the freedom of their journalists and others regardless of whom they work for, and they know why I boycotted. The last time Al Jazeera’s reporter called me for an interview they said ‘we are not Mubashir Misr,’ which shows that even their workers know they are politicized.”

Al-Balshi’s past experience is one that Rena Netjes, the Dutch journalist, is currently experiencing. Netjes was put on trial along with Fahmy and his team, despite never working for Al Jazeera.

“Since my name was announced as one of the defendants, I have been asking Al Jazeera to make an official statement saying that I never worked for them, which is the truth, and they never did,” said Netjes, whose only link to the case was a visit she made to Fahmy at the Marriott Hotel.

“I don’t understand why Al Jazeera didn’t publish this statement despite continuous calls from me and my work place in the Netherlands, while they continue to ask me to appear on the channel and speak of my dilemma,” added Netjes.

“I think they want more western names in the case to keep its momentum,” said Netjes, who was not represented by any of Al Jazeera’s lawyers throughout the trial. Despite what she has been through, Al-Jazeera never worked to publicly clear her name or assist her through the crisis.

Little Hope

In September 2014, Qatar decided, after a closed conference with neighboring GCC states, to dismiss a number of the leading Muslim Brotherhood figures that were hosted by Doha since Morsi’s ouster. The majority of those who were expelled were welcomed guests at Al Jazeera’s daily talk shows.

The news of Qatar’s attempt to absorb the anger of its gulf neighbors was followed by unconfirmed reports that the Al Jazeera Network was on its way to shutting down its controversial Mubashir Misr channel.

So far the families and lawyers of all defendants have appealed the verdicts and are waiting for Egypt’s Appeals Court to declare its decision: either to confirm the verdict or to trash it and set a date for retrial.

In the meantime, Fahmy’s family started an online crowd funding campaign to collect $350,000 USD to finance the legal defense through the retrial. This represents a concerning development that signals deteriorating relations between Al Jazeera and Fahmy, which might have led to the network’s refusal to finance his legal defense.

“Mr. Fahmy’s brother, Adel Fahmy, said his family is hoping to raise $350,000 to help fund the appeal. The figure is an estimate of how much it could cost to cover all of Mr. Fahmy’s legal fees, including additional expenses such as paying the prosecution to obtain evidence used against Mr. Fahmyat the trial earlier this year,” a report by The Globe and Mail said on October 9.

“We have all learned to manage our expectations in this exhausting legal battle,” Fahmy’s family wrote in an open letter. “We accepted the reality that [President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi] will not issue a pardon.”

This trial, despite its grim details and the suffering of those involved, remains an opportunity for Egypt’s media community to pressure for amending the legal frameworks that limit press freedoms.

But above all, Al Jazeera should confront the evidence and allegations that it jeopardized the well-being of its now-jailed journalists and continues to do so for others who work under very similar conditions. However, yet again, my recent attempts to Al Jazeera’s officials, including a request to Negm to address the allegations of this report, have been met with no comment.

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Mohannad Sabry

Mohannad Sabry

Mohannad Sabry is an Egyptian journalist based in Cairo. He was a finalist for the 2011 Livingston Award, and his articles have been published by The Miami Herald, among several McClatchy newspapers, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Times, GlobalPost and others. He speaks and understands a multitude of Arabic dialects and frequently collaborates with internationally known media outlets and documentary filmmakers. Sabry is currently writing a book on the security and political situation in the Sinai Peninsula.
Mohannad Sabry

@mmsabry

Journalist, Sinai Researcher and Author of Sinai: Egypt's Linchpin, Gaza's Lifeline, Israel's Nightmare. صحفي وكاتب مهتم بشؤون سيناء
. طبعا مش عايزين نجيب من القديم، بس لنا في ملف انحرافات المخابرات عبرة، والكلام ده من ايام فحت البحر، ما بالك بقى بهاكينج تيم وخلافه دلوقتي - 16 hours ago

6 Comments

  • Andrew Reid

    Oct 16, 2014

    Reply

    Thank you for this thorough investigation into the events surrounding the operation of Al Jazeera's channels in Egypt. While it is valuable, I fear you are playing into the hands of the authorities, who will use this piece to justify their arrest of the AJ journalists and the subsequent sentences handed down to them. The whole issue of their accreditation and licensing as a channel is important, but has no relationship to the charges they were convicted of - supporting a terrorist organisation and broadcasting false information. AJ may have failed in its duties to ensure proper legal status for the channel and its journalists, but even with proper accreditation and licensing the Egyptian government would still have charged these journalists for crimes they did not commit and falsely convicted them.

    • Ahmed Ammar

      Oct 17, 2014

      Reply

      Completely agree with that last comment.

    • TIMEP

      Oct 17, 2014

      Reply

      Dear Andrew, Thank you so much for your attention and feedback. We share your concern about the well-being of the journalists mentioned in the article and can assure you that the report was published with their best interests in mind.
      The intention of the report is, above all, to underscore the discrepancy between the tireless and often dangerous work of those advocating on behalf of journalists in the country (particularly those who have been imprisoned as a result of their work) and Al Jazeera’s inaction. It is our hope that doing so will contribute to a greater awareness about the risks that journalists face in Egypt, and ultimately will encourage greater transparency in media work more broadly.
      We encourage you to read Kareem Farid’s report exploring the charges and evidence related to the case, as well as the press release detailing TIMEP’s “call for the government of Egypt to uphold its international and constitutional legal obligations to protect free press and due process rights by allowing journalists to do their jobs freely, without risk of arbitrary arrest and detention.”

  • Rhonda Roland Shearer

    Oct 17, 2014

    Reply

    To Commenter Andrew Reid, you write: "...even with proper accreditation and licensing the Egyptian government would still have charged these journalists for crimes they did not commit and falsely convicted them." How do you know that? Evidence suggests this is not true. The approx. six employees that had press accreditation were not arrested, whereas, the three that did not have it, were arrested.

  • yams

    Nov 07, 2014

    Reply

    This article is nothing more than a hit piece against Salah Nagm utilizing emails supplied to the author by Nagm's enemies in the AJE newsroom. The intent of this hyperbolic article, which frankly contains no shocking allegations, is simply to provide ammunition to oust Nagm, one of the founders and elders of Aljazeera Satellite Channel as well as of Al Arabiya.

  • John Le Fevre

    Jan 03, 2015

    Reply

    Well written Mohannad. That Peter Greste and Co. were not accredited was nown early on. It's one reason why here in Thailand I mounted an aggressive campaign for journalists to be able to obtain licenses for ballistic wear while other people including the head of the BBC here said "don't rock the boat, the police and military turn a blind eye to it". We never got our licenses so now we work with some protection and illegal or with no protection. Journalists can't afford to give oppressive regimes any opportunity to target them. Not having correct accreditation paints a massive target on journalists. Appalling that Mohamed Fahmy has to resort to crowd sourcing to fund his case. What a despicable employer Al Jazeera is. Thank you for putting this piece together. Thank you Tahrir Institute for Middle East for giving this article space. @ Ahmed Ammar "AJ may have failed in its duties to ensure proper legal status for the channel and its journalists..." And that's ALL that matters. The rest is conjecture on your part. Journalists take risks for their employers and for their dedication to the profession, but they at least expect their employer to support them 150% when things go wrong and clearly AJ hasn't done that in this case. Being as legal as possible makes it harder for authorities to mount a case. AJs actions are unacceptable, despicable, inexcusable and unforgivable.

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