By Christopher B. Daly
[see update below]
Like almost every regime that wants to cling to power, the government in Egypt has decided to attack the news media. Prosecutors announced that they were charging 20 journalists who work for Al Jazeera with consipring with terrorists. Their crime: contacting enemies of the regime as sources and reporting their views. They are also being charged with broadcasting false images of “a civil war that raises alarms about the state’s collpase.” Translation: they called it the way they saw it.
According to the Times:
The charges are the latest turn in a widening clampdown on public dissent by the military-backed government . . .
This is obviously a shameful attempt to intimidate the entire news media, and it should be denounced in the strongest terms by the United States. Here’s what we got, in the daily briefing from the U.S. State Department:
The State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said Egypt should reconsider the prosecution. “The government’s targeting of journalists and others on spurious claims is wrong and demonstrates an egregious disregard for the protection of basic rights and freedoms,” she said.
Better than nothing.
Apparently, the regime in Egypt is having second thoughts — not about rounding up their own journalists, but about the unintended consequences of the crackdown on the rest of the world’s press. Their real goal seems to be to insulate their own people from exposure to the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hence the roundup of Al Jazeera journalists who have Brotherhood sources.
But they seem unprepared for the fallout — which is a natural reluctance of any self-respecting journalist to stick around in Egypt with the threat of arbitrary arrest hanging over them. Any reporter covering Egypt needs to have and use Brotherhood sources. But if that means you can be accused of conspiring with terrorists, it might be time to leave Egypt for a while.
In a statement on Thursday, the State Information Service said Egypt welcomed foreign correspondents to cover even “constructive criticism” of the government, in accordance with its commitments to democracy, freedom of expression and transparent elections.
Alluding to journalists’ fears about being charged for interviewing members of the Brotherhood, the statement said that “mere contact” with any “accused criminal” is not a crime under Egyptian law.
The statement, however, contained caveats. It said that Egyptian law does not protect freedom of “thought and opinion” if it develops into action that violates Egyptian laws, like “crimes that threaten the country’s national security.”
The statement also said that contact with an “accused criminal” may be a punishable offense “if this contact is a sort of assisting or inciting.”
Hmmm… I’d say it might be time to go visit some other hotspot for a while.