Thursday, 7 August: The President of the United States, Barack Obama, has once again called for the release of Al Jazeera English journalists, jailed for seven years in Cairo on 23 June this year.
Speaking Wednesday, on the last day of the US-Africa summit in Washington DC, Obama addressed the issue in clear terms, stating the US demands the freedom of journalists to report, a basic tenet of a civilised society:
“The specific issue with the Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt, we have been clear both publicly and privately that they should be released,” Obama said. “We have been very consistent in pushing governments not just in Africa but around the world to respect the right of journalists to practice their trade, as a critical part of civil society and a critical part of any democratic norm.”
Managing Director of Al Jazeera English, Al Anstey, welcomed the President’s comments and renewed the call for the immediate release of Al Jazeera English’s detained staff, who have now been behind bars for 222 days. “Peter, Mohamed, and Baher are superb journalists with great integrity. Their continuing detention is outrageous; a challenge to media freedom, and to the freedom of speech. Not a shred of evidence was presented against them in the trial, which culminated in the extraordinary sentences, so once again we call for an end to this injustice.”
Unprecedented global support for the release of Al Jazeera journalists
Calls for the release of Al Jazeera staff have previously been made from the White House, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the European Union, the Australian Government and over 150 rights groups, including Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Press Institute.
Over 200,000 people have signed petitions globally, including two petitions signed by 150,000 people presented to the Egyptian Vice Counsel in Sydney by Australia’s leading journalists.
Over 40 of the world’s top journalists have also signed a letter demanding the release of the journalists, and media outlets across the globe have staged their own protests, including BBC, CNN, ITN, Channel 4, Fairfax Australia, Toronto Star, VRT Deredactie and Iran’s Shargh Daily.
High profile supporters include leading media personalities Larry King, Christiane Amanpour, Jon Snow, Piers Morgan, Stephen Fry, Ben Wedeman, Brian Stelter, and Alex Thompson, as well as Naomi Klein, Reza Aslan, Mia Farrow, Bianca Jagger, Julia Perez and Russell Simmons.
Similarly public calls of support for the release of the journalists have occurred throughout the social media campaign #FreeAJStaff, with over 137,000 people who have shared their support on Twitter, reaching 112 million people, and delivering over two billion impressions.
The case has also been lampooned on the US comedy show The Daily Show, as well as numerous political cartoons.