Amid international outcry, Egypt's judiciary sentenced three Al Jazeera journalists to between seven and ten years in jail on charges of aiding terrorists. Bob reflects on how suppression of a free press in Egypt may be reversing the course of the Arab Spring.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield.
This was sound in the courtroom as three Al Jazeera journalists were dragged back to their cells, following convictions this week in Cairo, on charges of conspiring to endanger the Egyptian government. With the verdict, seven years for two defendants, ten years for a third, the hope and inspiration of Tahrir Square clouded over into distant memory. Following a show trial filled with conspiracy theories and a bizarre array of supposed evidence, the journalists became victims of a political environment that can twist basic news reporting into sedition. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said he will not intervene. That news did not sit well either in international capitals or in the media. Denunciation of the verdict was angry and immediate.
SHEPARD SMITH/FOX NEWS: The three men convicted of committing journalism, now to spend years in an Egyptian prison. It is an unthinkable disaster.
JAKE TAPPER/CNN: In world news, a judge in Egypt has sentenced three Al Jazeera English journalists to prison — for doing their jobs.
CHRIS HAYES/MSNBC: Three journalists were held in cages throughout the trial, and the evidence presented against them was, frankly, laughable, including a BBC podcast, a news report made while none of the accused were in Egypt and a video by the Australian singer Gotye.
BOB GARFIELD: Among the other allegedly damning exhibits was one of the defendant’s family’s vacation photos and a souvenir bullet from a protest, which is why suspicion ran high that the trial was not about the defendants but their employer. Qatar-based Al Jazeera was seen by the military regime, and others, as supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood-centered government al-Sisi deposed. Apart from the jailing of the journalists, the most immediate effect of the verdict was to negate claims by the al-Sisi government of its dedication to democracy and pluralism. As Guardian columnist Jess Hill observed, no Al Jazeera report could have damaged Egypt’s reputation as much as this sentence. On CNN, Fareed Zakaria had possibly the most chilling take. If Tahrir Square and the Arab Spring allowed Egyptians to look forward, the naked suppression of a free press transports us hauntingly back.
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
FAREED ZAKARIA: The old Egypt is back, that is the deep state of the state of Mubarak and Nasser. The state that ruled for 40 or 50 years in a kind of uninterrupted military dictatorship is back.
BOB GARFIELD: And because geopolitics are complex, all the world can do is flick on Al Jazeera and watch.