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January 2, 2015

Jailed journalists test press freedom in Egypt

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An Egyptian court ruling has granted retrials for three Al-Jazeera journalists who received 7-to-10 year sentences in June for allegedly publishing false news and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that has a controversial history in Egypt.

The Egyptian government outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization in 2013 after Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who belonged to the group, was unseated from power by a military coup.

The lawyer for one of the journalists says the arrests are actually an Egyptian government move against the ruling family of the nation of Qatar, which owns the Al-Jazeera network. Qatar has close ties to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, and was not supportive of the coup in Egypt.

The retrial should begin within a month, during which time the journalists will remain in prison, according to Borzou Daragahi, who has covered the issue for The Financial Times.

Qatar’s links to the Muslim Brotherhood have caused diplomatic rifts with other neighboring nations. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates removed their diplomatic posts from Qatar in March 2013.

But Egypt and Qatar have taken steps toward reconciliation recently. In Sept. 2013, Qatar kicked out exiled Muslim Brotherhood leaders that had taken refuge in the country.


Warm up questions
  1. What is freedom of the press, and why is it important?
  2. Where is Egypt?
  3. What do you know about the Arab Spring and uprisings in the Middle East over the past two years?
Critical thinking questions
  1. What role did Al Jazeera television play in the tensions between Egypt and Qatar? Why did Egypt convict the Al Jazeera journalists, and how could a retrial help free them?
  2. As a journalist, what are the risks of traveling to countries that do not have the same free-speech laws as the U.S.? Why is it important to do so?
  3. If you were a lawyer for one of the jailed journalists, how would you defend your client against the accusations?
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