DOHA (Reuters) - Broadcaster Al Jazeera called for vigils outside Egyptian embassies across the world on Thursday to press Egypt to free four of its journalists, three of whom have been charged with aiding a “terrorist organization”.
The three from al Jazeera’s English-language television service - Peter Greste, an Australian; Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian national; and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian - were detained in Cairo on December 29.
Al Jazeera Arabic’s Abdullah Elshamy has been detained without charge since 14 August 2013, and has been on hunger strike in protest since 23 January, the network said.
Al Jazeera has called the accusations absurd. The charge of aiding a “terrorist organization” is an apparent reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been protesting against the government since the army toppled Islamist president Mohammed Mursi on July 3 following mass protests.
The government has declared the Brotherhood a “terrorist group”. The Brotherhood says it is a peaceful organization.
Egyptian officials have said the case of the three is not linked to freedom of expression and that the journalists raised suspicions by operating without official permission.
“We are calling on all journalists and supporters of freedom to stage vigils in front of Egyptian embassies all over the world,” Ghassan Abu Hussein, international relations manager at Al Jazeera, told a news conference in Doha.
The Qatar-funded network says the demonstrations will be part of a media campaign that will also see online petitions and other activities in 30 cities across the world that will be covered on all of the channel’s services.
“Al Jazeera hopes through the attention of the world’s media and partners, pressure can be brought to bear on the Egyptian authorities,” Al Jazeera said in a statement.
Mohamed Badr, an Al Jazeera television cameraman freed from detention in Egypt earlier this month, told the news conference he had been abused and subject to brutality almost daily by security staff during nearly seven months in detention.
An Egyptian court acquitted Badr, an Egyptian, of charges of committing acts of violence during clashes in Cairo.
Badr was among several people arrested during clashes in central Cairo, days after Mursi was ousted by the army.
“I was slapped on the face, blindfolded and forced on my knees as I was questioned by an officer who kicked my in the face with his shoes,” he said.
He had been kept in a small prison cell with 37 others and was only offered limited amounts of food full of insects.
Badr said he had filed a complaint but withdrew it when he was told that if he pursued the matter he would be put in a small cell with insuffient clothing during winter months.
Interior Ministry Brigadier Ahmed Helmy told Reuters that anyone with complaints against the ministry had the right to send an official complaint to the ministry prisons’ department and the human rights organizations and they would be reviewed.
“However in this case, he decided to go out of Egypt and say what he said from al-Jazeera, instead of filing an official complaint to us, which is not understandable,” he said.
All four Al Jazeera journalists deny accusations against them.
Additional reporting by Yasmine Saleh in Cairo, Editing by William Maclean and Ralph Boulton