Journalists in Kenya’s capital shouted slogans and marched through the streets Tuesday before sitting outside the Egyptian Embassy in support of jailed reporters in Cairo.
The protesting media members and supporters called for all journalists jailed in Egypt to be freed, but the group focused its attention on Peter Greste, a Nairobi-based correspondent for Al Jazeera who has been in custody since Dec. 29.
Twenty journalists working for Al Jazeera face charges of joining or aiding a terrorist group and endangering national security. The government accuses the news station of being sympathetic to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, a powerful, conservative force in the country.
Nearly 100 journalists and supporters took part in a march and demonstration Tuesday, which helmeted police monitored but did not interfere with. “Journalism is Not A Crime,” read some of the protest posters.
Robyn Kriel, co-chair of the local foreign correspondents association, delivered a letter and met with the deputy ambassador. Kriel said she was “thrilled” with the support the group got for the jailed journalists both at the march and on Facebook and Twitter.
Reading a message to Greste, Kriel said: “We believe unanimously that the Egyptian government is wrong in detaining you. Today, as we deliver this letter to the Egyptian embassy, we unite in calling for the immediate release of you and your colleagues.”
Three men working for Al-Jazeera – Mohammed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian; Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian; and Greste, an Australian – were arrested on Dec. 29 in a Cairo hotel. Greste wrote in a letter from prison that his team was acting as professional journalists employing accuracy, fairness and balance in their stories.
In Cairo, a senior government official familiar with the case of the three Al-Jazeera journalists said the men were not accredited by authorities to work as journalists and had not applied for press cards.
“They broke the law,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media on the case.
“It is a matter for the prosecutors’ office,” he said when asked why the three were charged with aiding or joining a terrorist group.
Tom Rhodes, East Africa representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said at least 10 journalists are confirmed jailed in Egypt, but that the number is likely higher.
“If authorities feel at will to crack down on an international media house you can only imagine what they are doing to local journalists,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes, who also met with the deputy ambassador, said he and Kriel were told that the journalists’ cases are a matter for the courts, a response Rhodes said is being used to dismiss concerns that the journalists’ arrests are political in nature.