Malawian journalists, through the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) on Friday marched to the Egyptian embassy in Lilongwe to present a petition in solidarity with jailed Al Jazeera journalists.
“The Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) writes to you as a representative of journalists throughout southern Africa to express our disappointment with recent court decisions in Egypt.
As a defender of media freedom and freedom of expression in southern Africa, we join the rest of the world in condemning the sentencing of three Al Jazeera journalists and four other defendants to at least seven years in prison, as well as three foreign journalists being sentenced to 10 years in absentia,” read the petition presented by Misa Regional Chairperson Anthony Kasunda.
The three jailed journalists include Australian former BBC correspondent Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian national Mohamed Fahmy, Cairo Bureau Chief of Al Jazeera English, and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed.
“Freedom of expression is recognised as a fundamental human right in numerous international instruments, to which Egypt is a party, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 19; and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Article 9. Further, Egypt’s new Constitution also guarantees freedom of expression and opinion (Article 65), media freedom (Article 70), and media independence (Article 72).
The three Al Jazeera journalists were charged with “broadcasting false reports”. Such ‘false news laws’ have been condemned by various United Nations (UN) bodies and representatives on numerous occasions. UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information Pansy Tlakula has stated: “In the case of offences such as … publishing or broadcasting ‘false’ or ‘alarmist’ information, prison term are both reprehensible and out of proportion to the harm suffered by the victim. In all such cases, imprisonment as punishment for peaceful expression of an opinion constitutes a serious violation of human rights,” said Kasunda
Misa says as a country (Egypt) in transition this is a devastating verdict for the journalists and their families, and can only harm the efforts of the Egyptian government in its transition to democracy.
“There have also been very serious questions raised over the fairness of the trial of the journalists. The right to a fair trial is recognised by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 10; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 9, 14; and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Article 7. Egypt’s new Constitution also guarantees this right under Article 96.
MISA appeals to the Egyptian government to release all imprisoned journalists, both those who have been sentenced and those awaiting trial, through ordering a review the court’s decision. We further beseech you to acquit those convicted, or issuing Presidential pardons,” Misa petition reads.
Caption: Kasunda (right) presents petition to the egyptian Ambassodor to Malawi Mouhahad El-Ashmawy