Al Jazeera files claim for damages against Egypt

Network registers complaint at World Bank arbitration court accusing Egypt of targeting its journalists and offices.

Al Jazeera Media Network has lodged a claim for damages against the Egyptian government, accusing it of harassing journalists and damaging its office and equipment during repeated police raids in the country.

A claim was filed with the World Bank’s arbitration body – the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) – last week but formally announced by Al Jazeera’s lawyers on Wednesday.

Egypt is accused by Al Jazeera of systematically and deliberately targeting the network in the aftermath of the January 25 uprising in 2011, which brought down former President Hosni Mubarak.

The case centres on the network’s claim that Egypt violated a 1999 Qatar-Egypt bilateral investment treaty, which “requires that investors be afforded fair and equitable treatment by the governments of both countries”.

The treaty also ensures treatment of Al Jazeera’s staff in a manner consistent with international human rights laws, and respect for their right to freedom of expression.

Three Al Jazeera English journalists were arrested in late 2013. Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste were convicted of spreading false news and being members of a terrorist organisation. All three spent more than 400 days in an Egyptian prison.

Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were jailed in a trial criticised internationally [EPA]
Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were jailed in a trial criticised internationally [EPA]

Al Jazeera first issued a notice of its intent to file a case to Egyptian authorities in April 2014, from which the two sides had six months to resolve the issue according to the treaty.

Speaking on Wednesday, Saad Djebbar – an international litigation lawyer familiar with the case – said Al Jazeera delayed pursuing the case in order to avoid jeopardising the fate of its journalists put on trial by Egyptian authorities. 

The organisation had chosen an arbitration process because of the politicised nature of Egypt’s judiciary, Djebbar said, adding that the complaint was filed to highlight treatment of its journalists by the country’s military rulers.

“When you look at the claim, you’ll see that most of it focuses on the treatment of the journalists and freedom of press … This is a vehicle to highlight the detention of journalists and the attacks on Al Jazeera buildings and equipment,” Djebbar said.

An Al Jazeera spokesman on Wednesday said the decision to pursue the case had been taken after “continuing attacks upon the network and its staff”.

Network lawyer Lawrence Northmore-Ball, from law firm Carter-Ruck, said any decision by the World Bank’s arbitration body would be binding.

“Any award rendered by an ICSID tribunal is final and binding on the parties … and cannot be challenged or reviewed in any national court,” Northmore-Ball said.

Egyptian authorities have not formally responded to the case, and no deadline has been set for the country to file its defence against the claim.

Repeated calls to Egypt’s foreign office seeking comment went unanswered on Wednesday.  

 The burned-out interior of an Al Jazeera studio in Cairo after an attack in November 2012 [Reuters]
 The burned-out interior of an Al Jazeera studio in Cairo after an attack in November 2012 [Reuters]

Al Jazeera has been the subject of a number of raids, arrests, and arson attacks in Egypt.

Egyptian authorities also detained Al Jazeera Arabic journalists Abdullah Elshamy and Mohamed Badr in 2013. Both were eventually released after being imprisoned for months.

The network’s Al Jazeera Mubasher Masr channel was the subject of police raids in 2013, and some of its staff were briefly detained. The channel was eventually forced to shut down operations inside Egypt in September 2013.

In November 2012, a studio operated by the network overlooking Cairo’s Tahrir Square was set alight by unidentified attackers who also damaged equipment.

Source: Al Jazeera