UN rights office raises alarm over Egypt media crackdown
GENEVA - Agence France-Presse
A picture taken on on January 30, 2011 shows an employee of Al-Jazeera talking on the phone at the pan-Arab television channel's bureau in Cairo. AFP PhotoThe UN's human rights office on Friday expressed concern over a crackdown on the media by Egypt's military-backed rulers, spotlighting the treatment of reporters working for Al-Jazeera television.
"We are extremely concerned about the increasingly severe clampdown and physical attacks on media in Egypt, which is hampering their ability to operate freely," said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights.
Colville said there had been a string of reports of harassment, detention and prosecution of national and international journalists, as well as violent attacks.
Egyptian prosecutors Wednesday referred 20 journalists working for Qatar-based international station Al-Jazeera television to trial, including four foreigners.
"The vague charges, including 'aiding a terrorist group' and 'harming the national interest' are of great concern," Colville said.
"These are people carrying cameras, not guns," he added.
"This has not only placed a sharp focus on the systematic targeting of Al-Jazeera staff -- five of whom are in custody -- since the fall of the previous government last July, but also led to increased fears among the media in general, both national and international, which is clearly deeply detrimental to freedom of expression and opinion".
Coville said that journalists working for other media had reported being attacked by government supporters after being accused of working for Al-Jazeera.
The Egyptian military ousted elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July. He had been vocally backed by Qatar and other Gulf states.
The UN has received numerous reports of local journalists being sacked for reporting on sensitive issues, Colville said.
"There are also reports of journalists in detention being subjected to ill-treatment or being held in conditions that are not in line with international human rights standards," he added.
"We urge the Egyptian authorities to promptly release all journalists imprisoned for carrying out legitimate reporting activities in exercise of their fundamental human rights."