CAIRO, Egypt— Three Al Jazeera journalists were convicted and jailed in Egypt on 23 June 2014. The response to this action was a global outcry that condemned the Egyptian judicial system and evoked the right to freedom of the press.
Many utilized social media to display their opposition to the verdict. Within hours, #FreeAJStaff became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter. It received over 50,000 tweets on 23 June alone. As of Monday, the hashtag has been used over 273,000 times and also appears on other social media sites such as Instagram.
A photo posted by Amnesty International of journalists holding a #FreeAJStaff sign with black tape over their mouths and the words “Journalism is not a crime” in the center was the most retweeted message.
The journalists have been accused of “falsifying news” and assisting the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned opposition group in Egypt. The group is referred to as a terrorist organization by the Egyptian government.
The Al Jazeera journalists are Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed. They were each sentenced to seven years in prison. Peter Greste’s name alone was used more than 10,000 times on Twitter with over 60 percent of the posts coming from is home country, Australia. Mohamed received three extra years for possession of a bullet shell. The three have been detained since 29 December 2013.
The court also convicted several other journalists, giving them 10-year sentences. Among the convicted were British journalists Sue Turton and Dominic Kane as well as Dutch journalist Rena Netjes.
The names of these individuals who are suffering the consequences of the Egyptian government’s attempt to censure the press have also been trending on Twitter.
The conviction of the journalists is representative of the Egyptian government’s crackdown on opposition. Over the past year, the judicial branch has handed down mass death sentences to Egyptians accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and former President Mohamed Morsi.
New elected President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced on 24 June 2014 that he would not overturn the verdicts handed down to the journalists. President Sisi stated the he wished to respect the independence of the judiciary branch.
These actions have been widely condemned by human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, as well as the U.S., British and other Western governments. Many celebrities and notable media correspondents, such as Larry King, have also publicly expressed their opposition to the sentencing and utilized social media to do so.
The global response to the Egyptian government’s conviction of the journalists demonstrates that infringement of basic rights will not be tolerated. The Egyptian government’s attempt to censure the press and crush opposition has caused many to question the legitimacy of the administration. If President Sisi continues down this path, he will likely meet more opposition from not only Egyptians but also from the global community.
Hashtags on Twitter have proven effective in calling attention to internationally pressing issues. The #BringBackOurGirls used for the kidnapping of nearly 300 girls in Nigeria in April 2014 helped their plight become recognized worldwide and the increased coverage encouraged other countries, such as the United States, to get involved.
– Kathleen Egan
Sources: Al-Jazeera, Amnesty International, BBC