***The below news release was updated to reflect that Abdullah al-Shami is in the high-security section of Tora prison, and that his position is correspondent.
(Beirut)- Egyptian authorities should immediately release an Al Jazeera correspondent who has been held without charge since August 14, 2013, Human Rights Watch said today. The correspondent, Abdullah al-Shami, has been on a hunger strike for more than 100 days.
On May 12, 2014, the authorities transferred al-Shami from Tora Prison, just south of Cairo, to an undisclosed location, amid rising concerns that his health is deteriorating. On May 14, his brothers, Mosaab and Mohamed al-Shami, tweeted that Abdullah al-Shami was in solitary confinement in al-Aqrab (Scorpion) high security section of Tora prison, where they saw him. His lawyer has told reporters that al-Shami is under investigation for "spreading false news" and for alleged links with the Muslim Brotherhood, but after nine months authorities have not filed any charges. On May 3, a court extended his detention for another 45 days.
"Practicing journalism is not a crime," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Egypt's disregard for basic rights like free expression is nothing less than shocking."
The government should also release three other Al Jazeera journalists and others who have been charged but against whom authorities have yet to provide any compelling evidence that they committed any crime.
The three other Al Jazeera journalists, Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed, arrested on December 29, 2013, are standing trial on charges of "spreading false news" and "aiding a terrorist organization," a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. They are on trial with 15 others accused of having ties to the Brotherhood and "defaming Egypt's image abroad." They were refused bail most recently on May 3, 2014, with the next session of the trial scheduled for May 15.
The continued detention of the Al Jazeera correspondents violates the journalists' fundamental human rights, as enshrined in the country's 2014 constitution, as well as international human rights law. Article 65 of the new constitution holds that "Freedom of thought and opinion are guaranteed," and that "Every person shall have the right to express his or her opinion verbally, in writing, through imagery, or by any other means of expression and publication."
Article 70 of the constitution further affirms that "freedom of the press, printing and paper, visual, audio and electronic publication is guaranteed." According to article 71, "It is prohibited to censor, confiscate, suspend or shut down Egyptian newspapers and media outlets in any way," and, "no freedom-restricting penalty shall be imposed for publication or publicity crimes."
Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a state party, likewise affirms, "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice." Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, to which Egypt is also a state party, requires Egypt to protect the freedom of expression and the rights of all to receive information. The continued detention of Al Jazeera's journalists underscores the urgency of reforming Egypt's laws governing the media, Human Rights Watch said. Article 102 bis of the penal code allows for the detention of "whoever deliberately disseminates news, information/data, or false or tendentious rumors, or propagates exciting publicity, if this is liable to disturb public security, spread horror among the people, or cause harm or damage to the public interest."
Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, who is favored to win the presidency in an election later in May, in a lengthy interview with about 20 editors of leading Egyptian newspapers on May 8, warned against "scaring people" with reporting that "creates skepticism or uneasiness in society."
"Egyptian authorities should be addressing the serious problems that journalists report," Stork said. "Instead, they are trying to silence the messenger, jailing journalists on the basis of laws that violate basic freedoms."