TORONTO, June 24, 2014 /CNW/ - The conviction of Al Jazeera English Cairo Bureau Chief Mohamed Fahmy, on unfounded terror-related charges, strikes at the heart of freedom of expression in Egypt and raises troubling questions about the country's lack of judicial independence, said PEN Canada today.
Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian journalist, was arrested in December 2013 along with colleagues Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed. After six weeks of detention without charges, they were brought to trial for conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood and "spreading false news" that was intended to damage Egypt's international reputation. Following a trial characterized by "multiple procedural shortcomings" – according to Canadian ambassador to Egypt, David Drake – Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed were sentenced to seven, seven and 10 years respectively.
"These shameful sentences bode ill for freedom of expression in Egypt, and violate both the letter and the spirit of its new constitution," said PEN Canada President Philip Slayton.
Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee, called the sentences "a death knell for freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary in Egypt" and urged the international community to "respond swiftly, not only on behalf of foreign journalists, but on behalf of the citizens of Egypt, for whom democracy is in grave danger."
PEN remains concerned at a growing trend towards arresting and imprisoning independent journalists whose work is deemed to be critical of governments. A 2013 prison census by the Committee to Protect Journalists found that more than half of the journalists imprisoned worldwide had been jailed on anti-state charges.
PEN Canada calls for the convictions of Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed to be revoked and for their immediate and unconditional release.
PEN Canada is a nonpartisan organization of writers that works with others to defend freedom of expression as a basic human right at home and abroad. PEN Canada promotes literature, fights censorship, helps free persecuted writers from prison, and assists writers living in exile in Canada. www.pencanada.ca
SOURCE: PEN Canada
For further information: Juanita Bawagan, PEN Canada, JBawagan@pencanada.ca, 416-703-8448 ext 21