International news organization Al Jazeera today called for a "Global Day of Action" as part of its latest efforts to free several of its employees from detention in Egypt, three of whom have been held since late December, accused of terror-related crimes.
The three accused of terror-related crimes pleaded not guilty last week and reportedly shouted from the dock that they were suffering "psychologically unbearable" conditions in an Egyptian prison.
"Al Jazeera hopes through the attention of the world's media and partners, pressure can be brought to bear on the Egyptian authorities to hasten the release of Peter Geste, Mohammed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Abdullah Al Shamy by reminding them in a united voice, that journalism is not a crime," Al Jazeera said on its website.
The network said Geste, Fahmy and Mohamed, all employees of Al Jazeera English, were taken from a hotel Dec. 29 and have been accused of belonging to a "terrorist group." They were also accused of fabricating footage showing the civil strife in Egypt, which harmed the countries reputation, The Associated Press reported. Their trial has been adjourned until March 5.
Al Shamy, from the network's Arabic-speaking channel, was detained more than six months ago but no charges have been brought, Al Jazeera said.
As part of the Global Day of Action, the network expects people in "more than 30 cities" all over the world to come out for public events on behalf of the jailed journalists. More than a quarter billion Twitter users have sent messages including the hashtag #FreeAJstaff since it emerged Feb. 1, the network said. As of this report, today the hashtag is appearing in dozens of tweets every few seconds.
"This effort is about press freedom around the world," Al Jazeera America President, and former ABC News senior vice president, Kate O'Brien. "Press freedoms must be upheld."
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters earlier this month that the issue of the jailed journalists is of "deep concern" and said the administration has "strongly urged" the Egyptian government to drop the charges and release journalists and academics who have been detained. Carney dodged a question over whether the U.S. had considered cutting off aid to Egypt if the detentions continue.
ABC News Managing Editor for International News Jon Williams, some of whose employees have worked alongside Geste in the field in hot spots in both hemispheres, expressed his support for the jailed Al Jazeera journalists today.
"They were doing their jobs, reporting all sides of the upheaval," Williams said in a note to ABC News employees. "We stand in solidarity with all journalists who have been detained, mistreated or stifled in Egypt, which has become one of the world's most dangerous places for journalists."
As Williams noted, Reporters Without Borders ranked Egypt as the 158th country out of 179 on its Press Freedom Index in 2013.
Representatives for the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, D.C. did not immediately return an emailed request for comment for this report.