CAIRO: President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi can signal that Egypt is changing course by releasing all imprisoned journalists from prisons and allowing them to report safely, Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a Wednesday statement.
The CPJ also said it welcomed the Monday release of Al Jazeera Arabic reporter Abdullah Elshamy, who had been on a hunger strike for over four months in protest of his 11-month pre-trial detention.
Shamy and 12 others involved in the same case were given a release order by Attorney General Hisham Barakat on medical grounds. Despite their release, they are still under investigation.
The 13 defendants are among hundreds of others detained on Aug. 14, 2013, during the forcible dispersal of the Rabaa al-Adaweya sit-in. No trial date for the prisoners has been set yet, but Egyptian law allows up to two years of pre-trial detention. The defendants are charged with illegal assembly, blocking roads, resisting authorities, attempted murder and other charges.
CPJ also spoke of at least 14 other journalist jailed in Egypt, including Al Jazeera English journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed. The three journalists have been detained since December for “spreading false news undermining Egypt” among other charges. A verdict in their case is scheduled for June 23.
“While Egypt’s judiciary is constitutionally independent, we urge the president-elect to do everything in his power to make sure that these imprisoned journalists are set free and that no others are imprisoned under his tenure,” wrote CPJ Advocacy Director Courtney C. Radsch on CPJ’s website on June 3 as Sisi took office.
She also wrote that Sisi is in a “unique position to shape Egypt’s future.”
Egypt was ranked as the third deadliest country for journalists by the CPJ in a December 2013 report, behind Syria and Iraq in the respective number one and two spots.