Editorial: Free those journalists

21:45, Jun 24 2014
Peter Greste
BEHIND BARS: Australian Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste has been imprisoned in Egypt since December 29.

Legend has it that before World War I a small New Zealand newspaper thundered in an editorial: "We have repeatedly warned the Kaiser . . ."

There's no evidence, you will be astonished to learn, that the Kaiser ever heard or heeded this provincial advice.

It's similarly doubtful that the Egyptian authorities are waiting anxiously for The Southland Times to express its view on the terrible decision to jail three journalists on the pitifully unsupported accusation that they supported terrorism through their reporting on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Still, our distance from the action in this matter might at least help the Egyptians get a measure of just how far-flung is the international odium in which its judicial process is now held. An indication of the scale of reputational damage.

It's true that the Al Jazeera journalists work for an agency which (when it editorialises) has supported the brotherhood. But it's no stranger to the disciplines of honest, dare we say straightforward, journalism.

In this case the state simply made assertions, untroubled by the abject lack of supportive evidence. The burden of proof was entirely on the defendants.


The wide world paid attention to this case and was mightily unimpressed. Journalists recognised nothing more than straight-up journalism going on trial. Governments and rights groups recognised a disdain for principled judicial process.

Look, corrupt trials happen every day worldwide. It may be seen as precious when journalists react so strongly when their own (even when it's their own rivals) are caught up in the unfairness.

But when a government-controlled judiciary stamps like this on dissent, it reveals a dangerously malfunctioning state. Naively or not, we thought better of Egypt than that.

Egypt's reputation as a nation that is, or even strives to be, a just one, has been seriously tainted

The journalists have received weighty, seven-year sentences. There's a chance the sentences will be overturned on appeal or commuted.

But that is liable to be a drawn-out process for men who have already served six months in the notorious Tora Prison. They will not be forgotten and the climate of acute reproach against Egypt will continue.

The Southland Times