Al Jazeera files int’l arbitration claim against Egypt, seeks $150 million in damages

The Al Jazeera news network announced on Wednesday that it has formally filed an international arbitration claim against Egypt and is seeking US$150 million in compensation for damages associated with the state’s ban on its local operations and the imprisonment of its staffers.

The Qatari-based media network announced that it had filed the case before the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the World Bank’s arbitration authority. On its website, the Washington-based ICSID confirmed that the claim had been officially registered, but that a tribunal is still in the process of being constituted.

Al Jazeera reported that the case hinges on Egypt’s violation of a Qatari-Egyptian bilateral investment treaty dating back to 1999 (and officially came into force on July 2006), which stipulates “that investors be afforded fair and equitable treatment by the governments of both countries.” Al Jazeera’s management and lawyers have indicated that, by virtue of its provisions, the treaty also guarantees “the treatment of staff in a manner consistent with international human rights laws, and respect for their right to freedom of expression.”

However, Al Jazeera’s has made the case that “Egypt’s military rulers” violated these provisions by harassing its journalists, jamming its signal, raiding it bureaus, destorying its property and equipment, banning its coverage, and closing down its operations, along with the arrests, imprisonment, and trials of its staffers.

Al Jazeera claims that it was subjected to a state-led crackdown since 2011, in light of its coverage of the January 25 uprising against the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak.

However, the Egyptian government – and much of the Egyptian population – perceived Al-Jazeera’s coverage to be clearly slanted and biased toward the then-ruling Muslim Brotherhood. A mob stormed Al Jazeera’s office overlooking Tahrir Square in November 2012, set it on fire and destroyed equipment found within.

Following the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi from power on July 3, 2013, Egypt moved to shutter Al Jazeera’s operations in the country, claiming that the media organization was a mouthpiece for the Brotherhood. Egyptian security authorities raided the offices of Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr on July 4, 2013, and reportedly detained five of its staffers, while banning their broadcast of a pro-Morsi rally in Cairo.

In September 2013, Egyptian authorities reportedly deported three foreign correspondents working for Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr was closed down and prevented from broadcasting in Egypt in late 2014.

Moreover, shortly after President Morsi’s overthrow, Egyptian security forces arrested Al Jazeera’s Arabic staffers Abdallah al-Shamy and Mohamed Badr, holding them in pre-trial detention for months before their release.

Egyptian authorities went on to arrest four staff members of Al Jazeera International from the Marriott Hotel in December 2013, in what security authorities described as the “Marriott cell” case. Three of these staff members – Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, and Peter Greste – would spend over 400 days in prison.

Egypt’s judiciary had charged them disseminating false news and affiliation to a terrorist organization. In August 2015, the three staffers were issued lengthy prison sentences, along with fines.

Greste was eventually deported to his native Australia in February 2015. Several months later, in September 2015, both Fahmy and Mohamed were released from prison in light of a presidential pardon. However, Fahmy has filed a lawsuit against Al Jazeera – on charges of negligence – in which he is seeking  compensation amounting to C$100 million.

Al Jazeera has largely remained tight-lipped regarding this claim and lawsuit filed against it by Fahmy, the former chief of its English language bureau in Cairo.

Similarly, Egyptian state officials and authorities have remained silent regarding Al-Jazeera’s arbitration claim, and the compensation that it seeks. As of Wednesday, Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs made no mention of this international arbitration claim on its official website.

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