A march and sit in at the Egyptian Embassy was held in Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday to protest the incarceration of Al Jazeera English reporter Peter Greste and his three colleagues by Egyptian authorities in Cairo.
Greste, an Australian national, was arrested on Dec. 29 in Cairo with producers Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, as well as cameraman Mohamed Fawzy, and have been held in custody after being arrested by security forces for airing an interview they had with Muslim Brotherhood members. Egyptian authorities have labeled the group a terrorist organization and accused Greste and his coworkers of illegally meeting with the men they interviewed.
Greste, based in Kenya’s capital Nairobi for 10 years, is a veteran journalist who previously worked for Reuters, CNN and the BBC over the past two decades. He is also a member of the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of East Africa.
Members of the FCAEA, Committee to Protect Journalists, friends of Peter Greste and other local civil society and free press movements are calling for the unconditional release of Greste and his co-workers.
FCAEA co-chair Robyn Kriel said Greste has covered Africa extensively.
“He is a correspondent known for his decency, integrity and humility,” Kriel told MintPress from Nairobi on Monday. “We wanted to come together, as both local and foreign correspondents, to protest in Nairobi because we know Peter, and we know that these allegations brought by the Egyptian government against him and his team are baseless and unfounded.”
On Wednesday Greste’s appeal for release to the Egyptian government was denied, and local news agencies in Cairo stated that the Al Jazeera journalists would be charged in a criminal court with aiding terrorist activities, though to this date, no formal charges have been brought against him or his colleagues. Egyptian authorities have cracked down on the Qatar-based news service, claiming Al Jazeera employees have broken several laws.
Greste, 48, has long championed freedom of speech issues in journalism and has told some of East Africa’s most important stories.
“Being a journalist is not a crime,” a separate statement by the FCAEA said. “Telling the truth is not terrorism. Walk with us, and work with us on Tuesday, to bring Peter home to Nairobi so he can continue being a part of our important profession.”
In a letter recently smuggled out of Cairo’s Tora Prison, Greste, who said he had been spending 24 hours a day in his cell for 10 days straight before getting a small reprieve, writes:
“Our arrest is not a mistake, and as a journalist this is my battle. I can no longer pretend it’ll go away by keeping quiet and crossing my fingers. I have no particular fight with the Egyptian government, just as I have no interest in supporting the MB (Muslim Brotherhood) or any other group here. But as a journalist I am committed to defending a fundamental freedom of the press that no-one in my profession can credibly work without. One that is deemed vital to the proper functioning of any open democracy, including Egypt’s with its new constitution.”
Fahmy and Mohamed are being held in what Greste calls “the far more draconian ‘Scorpion prison’ built for convicted terrorists. Fahmy has been denied the hospital treatment he badly needs for a shoulder injury he sustained shortly before our arrest. Both men spend 24 hours a day in their mosquito-infested cells, sleeping on the floor with no books or writing materials to break the soul-destroying tedium.”
Tom Rhodes, the East Africa representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, told MintPress that Greste’s colleagues, family and friends were very concerned about his welfare.
“CPJ is deeply worried over the fate of Peter Greste and other colleagues imprisoned in Egypt,” he said from Nairobi. “We have been able to confirm 10 (employees from Al Jazeera) imprisoned, but the number is probably much higher. This is, in fact, the highest crackdown on one international media house CPJ has ever recorded and demonstrates the zero-tolerance policy of Egypt’s military government towards allowing a free, critical press.”
According FCAEA’s statement, the march will start at 10 a.m., and the protesters will wait in front of the Egyptian Embassy until they are granted an audience with the ambassador or until the embassy closes at 4 p.m.
“Expect live broadcasts, social media campaigns, and a ruddy good protest,” the statement added.