The trial of four Al Jazeera staff in Egypt shows the reality of the constraints journalists are forced to operate under in the country, says Andrea Calderaro of the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom at the EUI.
Three Al-Jazeera staff who have been in prison for two months, will have their trial resumed on Monday 24 March charged with spreading false news and belonging to a terrorist group. Other Al-Jazeera staff have previously been in custody but their cases had not gone to trial, while one of their colleagues who has been in detention for six months has been on hunger strike since February.
“It says a lot about where Egypt is going in terms of freedoms,” says Calderaro. “The glories of the Arab Spring mobilization are over.”
It is believed the journalists involved tried to contact members of the Muslim Brotherhood who gained power in Egypt in the first elections after the popular uprising but have since been declared an illegal organisation.
Such restrictions show that despite the high hopes following the fall of Hosni Mubarak and the enthusiasm of the Arab Spring, Egypt is still far from becoming a democratic country, according to Calderaro: “Restrictions on media was definitely not expected to happen.”
“It did not just have a revolution and that’s it over, Egypt is a democratic country. These arrests show the truth, to show the public that this is exactly what is happening in Egypt.”
Although not yet in the situation where journalists are being actively pursued, as is the case in Syria, Andrea Calderaro is pessimistic about the short term potential for future freedoms.
“The arrest of Al-Jazeera journalists provides more evidence to international public opinion on the increasing threats to media freedom in Egypt. Given these worrying signs, we should unfortunately expect to witness enhanced restrictions to freedom of expression in the country”.