Al Jazeera Media Network has condemned a decision by Egypt‘s highest court to keep three of its journalists on a national terror list, describing the move as a “direct attack on press freedom and freedom of expression”.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Qatar-based network said Egypt’s Court of Cassation upheld last week a lower court ruling that designated Salem Almahroukey, Ayman Azzam and Mohamed Maher Akl as “terrorists”.
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Individuals added to the terrorism list are subjected to a travel ban, asset freeze and passport cancellation.
Al Jazeera’s journalists were among more than 100 people designated as terrorists by Egypt’s criminal court in June last year. The list also included journalists and media workers from other news outlets.
The three Doha-based journalists, who work for Al Jazeera Mubasher, “are known for their dedication and professionalism”, the network said.
“Al Jazeera sees this as a continuation of the Egyptian authorities’ efforts to silence Al Jazeera and its journalists and to deter and intimidate the Network from covering developments in Egypt,” the statement added.
Human Rights Watch, a global rights group, has called Egypt’s terrorism list, introduced by law in 2015, “a mockery of due process”, as the consequences of designated “terrorists” were similar to those for people convicted after a trial.
In addition to journalists, the list includes members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, which has been subject to a far-reaching crackdown since the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was removed as president in 2013.
Egypt is ranked 161 out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) World Press Freedom Index and was described by the group in 2016 as “one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists”.
RSF has said that under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi‘s leadership, Egyptian authorities have waged a witch-hunt against journalists suspected of supporting the Brotherhood and blocked hundreds of news websites.
Al Jazeera’s website was banned in Egypt in 2017 on charges of supporting terrorism and spreading false news, a claim the network denies.
In its Tuesday statement, Al Jazeera said Egyptian authorities have continuously targeted the network’s journalists and correspondents since 2013.
Highlighting the case of Mahmoud Hussein, an Al Jazeera Arabic journalist who has spent more than two years in an Egyptian prison, without formal charges, the network said: “We at Al Jazeera demand the Egyptian authorities cease and refrain from targeting journalists and media professionals and release all detained journalists including Mahmoud Hussein immediately.”
Hussein was detained in December 2016 on charges of “incitement against state institutions and broadcasting false news with the aim of spreading chaos”, allegations he and Al Jazeera deny.
The UN has called his detention arbitrary, saying Egyptian authorities “failed to produce a single piece of evidence that could justify any of the charges brought informally against him”.