Al Jazeera executives and anchors, global diplomats, and several members of the media gathered this afternoon at the United Nations for a town hall on press freedom. There were also three chairs left empty (pictured above), symbolically held for Al Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Baher Mohamed, and Mohamed Fahmy who were found guilty Monday in a courtroom outside Cairo.
“These people were amazing in terms of their knowledge, and their willingness to share what they knew about the region with an American who was coming to the Middle East to learn and report on what was happening,” Al Jazeera America anchor Tony Harris told TVNewser at the event. Harris, a former CNN anchor, met the journalists several years ago when he began anchoring for Al Jazeera English.
“The idea that these guys would be imprisoned right now, essentially fighting for their reputations, fighting for their lives, is just unconscionable to me.”
Egyptian U.N. diplomat Osama Abdelkhalek Mahmoud spoke at the event, but declined to comment on the case, citing Egypt’s constitution. (Egypt’s new president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has also said he will not interfere in the ruling.) Mahmoud says he’s confident the journalists got full due process during the months-long trial. Greste, Mohamed and Fahmy were arrested in December for “harming national security” through apparent links to the Muslim Brotherhood.
“These are not criminals, these are journalists,” Al Jazeera CEO Ehab Al Shihabi said.
“Journalism is a profession that requires courage, no matter where you are,” Al Jazeera president Kate O’Brian told TVNewser. O’Brien says her colleagues’ imprisonment won’t deter others. “If you want to be a journalist, you’re going to go after it.”