The Journalists Syndicate plans to launch a campaign next Wednesday demanding medical care for imprisoned media professionals — if not their immediate release — under the slogan, “We will medically treat them and release them; journalism is not a crime.”
At least 32 journalists are currently detained or serving prison sentences in Egypt, 18 of whom were arrested while reporting in the field, according to syndicate Freedoms Committee head Khaled al-Balshy. They have been accused of a range of charges including belonging to an outlawed group, said Balshy, who argued such charges are baseless.
In a recent high-profile case, investigative journalist and sociopolitical researcher Ismail Alexandrani was remanded into detention for 15 days last Monday on charges of belonging to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and disseminating false information. Amnesty International and several other rights groups decried the arrest, arguing Alexandrani is being targeted for his criticism of the authorities in his academic and journalistic work.
Activities are slated to begin with a press conference at the syndicate’s downtown Cairo headquarters at 6 pm on Wednesday, December 9 and will go on to include petitions, rallies and other protest actions, the syndicate said in a statement posted to its official website posted Sunday.
The campaign puts a particular emphasis on the case of photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid — better known as Shawkan — who has been held in pretrial detention for more than 850 days in violation of Egypt’s Penal Code, which maxes pretrial detention out at two years. His first trial date is scheduled for December 12, shortly after the campaign’s launch.
Freedom for anyone jailed for committing “publishing offenses” is the campaign’s ultimate goal, the syndicate explained, but it also aims to at least “improve their situation in their places of detention, especially in light of increasing violations.”
A presser announcing the campaign on Monday focused on raising awareness “regarding the health conditions of jailed colleagues and the dangers threatening their lives.”
At the presser, Balshy accused prison authorities of denying healthcare and medication to seven imprisoned journalists diagnosed with serious medical conditions, including hepatitis C and diabetes, the Reuters-affiliated news site Aswat Masriya reported.
Some detainees have also reported being denied visitation rights for months on end, such as Hassan al-Qabbani, whose wife says he has been denied visits from his family for more than three months while serving time at the maximum security Al-Aqrab Prison. Other violations include preventing visitors from bringing medication, food and winter clothes and blankets to the inmates.
At least 18 complaints of poor prison conditions have been filed with the prosecutor general, Balshy said at the Monday press conference, but the committee is working on sorting through several more and plans to lead a march to the prosecutor general to file them as part of the campaign.
In addition to violations committed in prisons, Balshy said the syndicate has also documented at least 350 cases of assaults on journalists over the past two years.