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Johannesburg - The SA National Editors' Forum on Wednesday pleaded with the Egyptian government to review the prison sentences of three Al Jazeera journalists.
“After looking at reports of the trial and pursuing the documentation sent by your office, it is our view that the conduct of the journalists... was the normal professional activities of journalists covering a complex situation in a country such as Egypt and exercising the right to freedom of expression,” Sanef chairman Mpumelelo Mkhabela said in a letter to Egypt's ambassador in South Africa, Sherif Fouad Naguib.
“We further totally reject the prosecution's imputed intentions of the journalists in possessing and delving into the material they collected.”
The letter, which was a memorandum of protest over the recent imprisonment of the journalists, was hand delivered to the Egyptian embassy in Pretoria earlier on Wednesday by a Sanef delegation.
In the letter, Mkhabela said Sanef believed the allegations concerning the journalists' intentions were a misconception of their normal professional conduct.
“Indeed we would expect journalists covering the events in Egypt would delve into as many sources of information as they could obtain to ensure the accuracy of their reports.”
The three Al Jazeera journalists, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, were arrested in Cairo in December last year while covering the aftermath of the coup that deposed Mohamed Morsi.
They were sentenced on June 23 to seven years in prison each on terrorism-related charges. Baher Mohamed was sentenced to an additional three years in prison on separate charges.
In the letter Mkhabela referred to agreements with numerous international bodies, which Egypt was party to, which recognised freedom of expression as a human right.
He pointed out that Egypt's Constitution guaranteed freedom of expression, opinion, and media freedom and independence.
Sanef questioned the fairness of the trial and pleaded for a review of the case, which Mkhabela said should include International Criminal Court representatives as observers.
Alternatively Sanef asked the Egyptian president to grant the journalists a pardon.
“Sanef also appeals for the release of all imprisoned journalists, both those who have been sentenced and those awaiting trial,” he said.
“This we do because we believe Egypt... should stop sliding into a dictatorship but should be a light for democracy and openness.”
Mkhabela concluded the letter by saying the sentences imposed on the journalists had shocked the world and tarnished Egypt's image as a leading African country.