Updated Aug. 31, 2015
When journalists make the news as much as they cover it, something has gone wrong. Lately in Egypt, journalists have been in the headlines with disturbing regularity.
On Saturday two Al Jazeera journalists, Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian cameraman Baher Mohamed, were again sent to prison after being retried on charges of broadcasting false news. The two, who had spent more than 400 days in prison, were widely expected to be cleared of charges. Instead, they received a 3-year sentence. Mohamed received an extra six months for possession of a spent bullet casing.
Unfortunately the two are not alone. The Committee to Protect Journalists says Egypt remains one of the world’s leading jailers of media workers (22 at last count, up from 12 in March).
Celebrated blogger Alla Abd El Fattah in February received a five-year sentence for what prosecutors called illegal protest. Reporters covering mass protests in Cairo this January were questioned and detained; one was handed over to pro-government demonstrators, who dragged her to the ground, punched and slapped her, she reported. The crackdown came days after President Albdel Fattah Al-Sisi promised to release several jailed journalists.
It was also Cairo in 2011 where 60 Minutes reporter Laura Logan was gang raped by a crowd of protestors while covering the Arab Springs uprising.
Except for a brief hiatus after the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, journalists in Egypt have had negligible media freedom. For years, they have faced harassment and obstructionism when reporting. Their stories can be weighty, such as the killing of 20 protesters at the rallies in January. Or, as I know well, the topics can be politically benign — like whether garbage pickers outside of Cairo have any legal claim to land on which they are squatting.