More than 50 news organizations have called on Egyptian authorities Monday to release three journalists — including a Canadian-Egyptian — jailed while working for Al-Jazeera English and to stop arbitrary detentions of media representatives.
The team was taken into custody Dec. 29 at a hotel room in Cairo where they were working after the Egyptian government raided the offices of the Qatar-based satellite news broadcaster.
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The Interior Ministry said the arrest of acting bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian, correspondent Peter Greste of Australia and producer Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian, was part of its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government has branded a "terrorist" organization.
The ministry accused one of those arrested, without naming him, of using the hotel suite as a media centre for the group from which it broadcast "rumours and false news" and to hold organizational meetings for members of the Brotherhood.
Fahmy's family is calling on Ottawa to do more to secure his release. His younger brother, Sherif Fahmy, calls the allegations "insane" and says his family doesn't understand why the Canadian government hasn't done more to intervene.
Sherif Fahmy says he hopes Canadian officials will at least push for his brother to be provided with a blanket in what he says is a cold, dark, insect-infested cell.
Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, meanwhile, says officials have been in touch with the Canadian-Egyptian journalist.
"Consular services are being provided to the Canadian citizen who has been arrested in Cairo, Egypt, and officials are in contact with the family. Consular officials continue to liaise with local officials," a department spokesperson said in an email to The Canadian Press.
Media organizations call for release
Egypt's top prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, said the journalists would be held through the end of the month for interrogation. Their detention is seen by many as a sign of the military government's impatience with dissent after it overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in a coup in July.
Al-Jazeera has said the reporters were operating within the country legally and had no affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, and that the channel is working for their release.
'The arrest of these journalists has cast a cloud over press and media freedom in Egypt.' - Statement from news organizations
"Our journalists were simply doing their jobs in Cairo, and we look forward to their release," said Al Anstey, managing director for Al-Jazeera English.
The statement, signed by the news organizations, called for the release of all journalists who have been arbitrarily detained in Egypt, singling out Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed. It also expressed deep concern that the three may face charges including belonging to a terrorist organization and spreading false news that could endanger national security.
The statement was sent to the State Information Service, which said in a meeting with a group representing the signees that it had been relayed to the Foreign Ministry and relevant security bodies.
More than 50 representatives of media organizations from around the world signed the document, including senior editors and reporters from the AP, CNN, BBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post and NPR.
"The arrest of these journalists has cast a cloud over press and media freedom in Egypt. We strongly believe that upholding the rights of journalists and permitting the free flow of information is vital to bringing about greater understanding and serves the best interests of all Egyptians and the world," the statement said.
Al-Jazeera's offices have been stormed several times over the past months. Journalists and cameramen have been detained and a court order has barred its local affiliate from broadcasting in Egypt since September, accusing it of endangering national security. The affiliate, Al-Jazeera Mubasher Egypt, has continued to broadcast using its studios in Doha, Qatar, collaborating with freelancers and using amateur videos.