* Jazeera exec: Cairo stifles all voices but government's
* Journalists may be in jail two years before trial -Allan
* Says press freedom, not Qatar-Egypt tension, core of issue
By Amena Bakr
DOHA, Feb 10 An executive of pan-Arab satellite
network Al Jazeera said Egypt's arrest of three of its
journalists for allegedly assisting a "terrorist organisation"
shows Cairo is bent on suppressing all views other than its own.
The charges implied the three had had unlawful contact with
the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egyptian authorities have banned
and sought to crush since the army toppled Islamist President
Mohamed Mursi in July after mass protests against his rule.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera has described the allegations against
Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and
Egyptian Baher Mohamed - who were detained in their Cairo hotel
on Dec. 29 - as "absurd, baseless and false".
Egypt's public prosecutor said last month he would put an
Australian, two Britons and a Dutch woman on trial for aiding 16
Egyptians belonging to a "terrorist organisation", referring to
all as Al Jazeera correspondents. The network told Reuters it
had no Dutch or British correspondents in Egypt.
Heather Allan, input manager at Al Jazeera English, said the
three might spend up to two years in an Egyptian prison before a
court date is set.
While there were strains between Qatar and Egypt over the
Muslim Brotherhood, branded by Cairo's military-backed
authorities as a terrorist group, the three journalists'
situation had more to do with the freedom of the press, Allan
told Reuters in an interview at Al Jazeera's Doha headquarters.
"We just happen to be a very convenient target because we
are watched widely there; I think we have the most name
recognition," she said.
"But they (the government) have also put other journalists
from local media in jail ... All other voices are being shut
down, no matter what that other opinion is until you are left
with just one voice."
The public prosecutor said the accused had published "lies"
that harmed the national interest and supplied money, equipment
and information to the 16 Egyptians.
The foreigners were also accused of using unlicensed
broadcasting equipment, which Allan said included standard gear
used by any journalist such as a camera and a notepad.
The Brotherhood renounced violence in the 1970s and said
recently it remains committed to peaceful political change,
denying accusations of links to terrorism.
"IT CAN GO ON FOR TWO YEARS"
The Qatari-funded network said another one of its
journalists, Abdullah Al Shami, has been in detention for five
months. It is not clear what charges he is facing.
Allan said Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed were nearing the end of
their first 45 days in detention. "After 45 days they will go to
another 45 days, and then it can go on for two years in 45-day
increments without a court date," she said, without elaborating.
Asked to comment on the plight of foreign journalists in
light of the Al Jazeera case, Egyptian army spokesman Colonel
Ahmed Ali said last month: "This is a case related to a channel
that has breached the law and this is in the realm of the
Egyptian judiciary, not the armed forces."
Unlike other Gulf Arab states that fear the Brotherhood and
were relieved to see the Egyptian military oust Mursi in July,
Qatar remains a strong backer of the Islamist movement.
During the year Mursi was in power, Qatar gave Egypt $7.5
billon and today some of the group's Egyptian members have
chosen to take refuge in the wealthy Gulf emirate.
But Allan suggested political relations the two countries
were not the main point at issue in the journalists' case. She
added that none of Al Jazeera's channels received orders from
the Qatari government on how to cover the news.
"This is not really a Qatari government affair; we do not
work for the government," she said.
Egypt's fierce crackdown on the Brotherhood since Mursi's
removal has widened to include journalists and liberal
activists, including ones who played an important role in the
popular uprising of 2011 that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Critics accuse the current government of committing the same
abuses that Mubarak's security forces engaged in.
Allan said that Al Jazeera had tried repeatedly without
success to obtain Egyptian accreditation for a number of its
rotating journalists travelling to Cairo. With the three
journalists now in jail, the channel had given up on the
"We had people rotating to Egypt and we did try to get
accreditation for them and we never got anything back, so we
just didn't bother with this lot," she said. But she said the
lack of accreditation was no crime and "certainly is not a
Asked if the channel's management was aware of the risks
associated with lack of accreditation in Egypt, Allan said:
"I mean we always know what we should and shouldn't do. And
certainly getting accreditation in Egypt is something you should
do, but they stopped issuing it, or make it difficult for you to
get (it)... We operate in many countries without accreditation,
it's what we do."
(Reporting by Amena Bakr, Editing by William Maclean and Mark