Amnesty says Egypt using courts and jail to intimidate journalists

Al-Jazeera television journalists Mohamed Fahmy (left) and Baher Mohamed are seen at a court in Cairo on April 22, 2015. They are undergoing a retrial after a court found procedural flaws in the original case. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
Al-Jazeera television journalists Mohamed Fahmy (left) and Baher Mohamed are seen at a court in Cairo on April 22, 2015. They are undergoing a retrial after a court found procedural flaws in the original case. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian authorities are using the courts to stifle journalism, Amnesty International said on Sunday in a report that listed 18 reporters and media workers jailed and dozens more facing criminal investigations.

The New York-based rights group said several reporters have been detained for long periods without charge or trial, including an Egyptian photographer known as Shawkan who has been held for more than 600 days.

Rights groups say a crackdown launched by the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after the overthrow of Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in mid-2013 has muzzled freedom of expression. "In Egypt today anyone who challenges the authorities'official narrative, criticizes the government or exposes human rights violations is at risk of being tossed into a jail cell, often to be held indefinitely without charge or trial or face prosecution on trumped-up charges," Amnesty said.

The Egyptian foreign ministry responded to the report saying the journalists were arrested based on a warrant from the public prosecutor and afforded full due process. "Nobody is being targeted for being a journalist. Such accusations are politicised nonsense," said spokesman Badr Abdelatty.

The sentencing of three Al Jazeera journalists to between 7 and 10 years in prison last year on charges of spreading lies reinforced the view of rights groups that the government was rolling back freedoms gained after a 2011 uprising.

Australian Peter Greste was deported in February, while Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed are undergoing a retrial after a court found procedural flaws in the original case.

Among the other incidents cited by the Amnesty report were 25-year prison sentences given to 14 journalists and media workers last month on charges of spreading false information and inciting violence. That ruling can be appealed.

In a separate case, five journalists from the privately-owned Al Masry Al Youm newspaper face a criminal investigation after accusing security forces of corruption and human rights violations.

Another photojournalist, arrested at a Cairo protest in December 2013, was detained for more than 18 months before being charged and ultimately acquitted last week.

Amnesty said most convictions lacked evidence and were based solely on testimonies of the security forces.

Since mid-2013 at least six journalists have been killed while covering protests in Egypt by security forces or during clashes among demonstrators, the group said.