- The Washington Times - Friday, June 23, 2017

Former Al Jazeera journalists suing the network say it’s not a surprise Qatar has found itself isolated by Gulf and Arab countries for supporting terrorism, adding that under the direction of the Qatari government, Al Jazeera has operated unethically and with bias in neighboring countries for its own agenda.

On Friday, four Arab states issued a list of 13 demands to Qatar, in a document obtained by The Associated Press and Reuters, which included the shuttering of Al Jazeera and its affiliates, in exchange for normalizing relations after the Gulf Cooperation Council cut economic and diplomatic ties with the tiny, wealthy nation on June 5.

Mohamed Fahmy and Mohamed Fawzi were working for Al Jazeera English in Cairo when they were arrested in 2013 on charges of terrorism directly linked to their work at the network, along with other members of their staff.

The men claim that they had no knowledge of activities by Al Jazeera against Egyptian law.

Mr. Fawzi, an Egyptian citizen, was released after a few days in prison and fled the country for Qatar before coming to the U.S. He was tried in abstentia, sentenced to 10 years in prison and designated an international terrorist.

Mr. Fahmy, an Egyptian-Canadian, spent over 400 days in Egypt’s “Scorpion prison,” including a month in solitary confinement. He was issued a pardon by Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and released from prison in September 2015.

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“My defense in the retrial in Egypt was based around attempting to convince the judge to separate between the responsibilities of we, journalists, and Al Jazeera. My colleagues and I, including cameraman Mohamed Fawzi, did not conspire with the Muslim Brotherhood group designated as terrorists. Al Jazeera did and on behalf of the Qatari government who controls the general direction of the coverage,” Mr. Fahmy said Thursday.

Mr. Fahmy filed his lawsuit against Al Jazeera in Canada in May 2015. Al Jazeera denied the allegations fielded by Mr. Fahmy in an interview with the U.K. newspaper The Guardian at the time.

Mr. Fawzi filed a separate lawsuit in September 2016 in the United States District Court in the District of Columbia.

The former employees both charge the network for negligence and breach of contract, saying the network was involved in numerous illegal activities under Egyptian law, kept their staff in the dark about what they were doing and abandoned them when they were arrested.

Egypt accused the journalists of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood, designated as a terrorist organization by Egypt, the U.S., the U.N. and other Middle Eastern bodies including Saudi Arabia.

“The issue of conspiring with a group that is banned, then declared as terrorists, whether you and Qatar and Al Jazeera believe they’re terrorist or not doesn’t matter. The country where you’re working at are telling you these guys are terrorists,” Mr. Fahmy said.

“So if I was told … that Al Jazeera was dealing very fluidly with many members of the Brotherhood — whether they’re the youth and so on — and we accepted that, then I would not be able to speak about it or contest it. But we weren’t and unfortunately I found out inside the prison.”

While Qatar denies it directly finances terrorism, known material support it provides includes harboring designated terrorists in the country, such as members of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

In response to the list made public Friday, Al Jazeera released a statement calling the demand for its closure an “attempt to silence the freedom of expression in the region and to suppress people’s right to information and the right to be heard.

“We assert our right to practice our journalism professionally without bowing to pressure from any government or authority and we demand that governments respect the freedom of media to allow journalists to continue to do their jobs free of intimidation, threats, and fearmongering,” the online statement said.

A statement by Qatari officials on the list of demands is expected to be released later on Friday, CNN reported.

Mr. Fahmy is the author of “The Marriott Cell,” a memoir detailing his experiences in jail and his research supporting his case showing that, among other things, Al Jazeera was operating against Egyptian law without proper liscences.

The name of the book refers to the night Mr. Fahmy, along with Al Jazeera journalists Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed were arrested in a raid by Egyptian authorities on the Marriott hotel where they were working, arrested for belonging to a terrorist group, among other charges.

“When it was announced, I wasn’t really in shock,” Mr. Fahmy said of the decision by the GCC to sever ties with Qatar. “When a nation has scores of designated terrorists by the U.S., the U.N. … running around and they’re your neighbors, I don’t know [if] I would be able to live if I would have to deal with that. So it wasn’t a surprise at all. I think somebody’s got to put an end to this.”

• Laura Kelly can be reached at lkelly@washingtontimes.com.

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