US urges Egypt to free Al Jazeera staff

US government condemns detention of journalists in Egypt, saying they should be protected and permitted to do their job.

The US White House has condemned the detention of Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt and called for their release.

On Tuesday, it was 38 days since Egyptian authorities detained Mohammed Fahmy, Baher Mohammed and Peter Greste at their hotel in Cairo.

Their Al Jazeera Arabic colleague Abdullah Al Shami is still in Egyptian custody. Mohammed Badr, Al Jazeera Arabic cameraman, has been acquitted of all charges and was released overnight.

The three Al Jazeera English journalists have been held without charge in prison in Cairo. They are accused of spreading false news and having links to the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt classified as a terrorist organisation.

The government in Cairo said their cases have been referred to the criminal court. However Al Jazeera has not been notified of any formal charges.

The White House said that it is deeply concerned about the recent crackdown by the Egyptian government on journalists and academics.

“These figures, regardless of affiliation, should be protected and permitted to do their jobs freely in Egypt,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane at a White House briefing.

“We have strongly urged the government to drop these charges and release those journalists and academics who have been detained,” he said.

International support

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour has thrown her weight behind the online #FreeAJStaff campaign by covering the issue in her TV programme. The renowned foreign correspondent and interviewer held up the #FreeAJStaff sign live on air.

Christiane Amanpour covered the #FreeAJstaff campaign that has gone viral [CNN/YouTube]

Earlier on Tuesday, scores of supporters of the Al Jazeera journalists demonstrated in Kenya, the base of Greste.

“Being a journalist is not a crime,” the crowd of around a 100 shouted outside the Egyptian embassy in Nairobi, in a peaceful protest watched over by armed police.

“Journalism does not equal terrorism, you have committed no crime,” 
said Robyn Kriel, a reporter for South Africa’s eNCA television, and head of East Africa’s foreign journalists association.

Rights group and the United Nations have also expressed concern over the crackdown on the media by Egypt’s military-backed rulers.

Tom Rhodes of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said he feared for media rights in Egypt.

“CPJ is concerned that if such a crackdown is done on an international media house… what is the situation for local journalists?”

Diplomat summoned

Egypt’s interim government summoned the Qatari Charge d’Affaires on Tuesday and issued a formal letter of complaint to Qatar over its failure to turn over wanted persons who fled Egypt following the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in July. 

“The Qatari representative was summoned again to the Foreign Ministry headquarters to convey a message of protest and to reaffirm the need to carry out Egypt’s requests, and to stress the importance of responding to the prosecutor general, Arab Interpol and international Interpol’s requests to deliver the wanted persons, and to intervene to stop these infringements on Egypt,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty told Reuters.

The interim government also rejected the EU condemnation of the arrest of the al Jazeera staff.

Al Jazeera Media Network will hold a press conference on Thursday, 6 February, in Toronto calling on the Egyptian authorities to immediately release the five journalists.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies