CAIRO -- A Dutch reporter left Egypt on Tuesday after learning she was one of four foreign journalists accused by Egyptian prosecutors of terrorism-related charges, the Dutch Foreign Ministry said.
Dutch diplomats had held talks with Egyptian authorities to ensure that the journalist, Rena Netjes, would not be arrested when she arrived at the airport for her flight out. She arrived back in Amsterdam later Tuesday, and the Foreign Ministry said in a statement that she would “take up her defense from there.”
Egypt’s military-backed interim government has for months wielded a variety of authoritarian measures aimed at muzzling dissent, and that crackdown has now widened to include the curtailment of media freedoms. Human rights groups and media advocacy organizations have expressed sharp concerns over the growing pattern of arrests and prosecutions of journalists, including foreigners.
Egyptian authorities had said last month that a Dutch national was among four foreigners named in an indictment of 20 journalists working for the Qatar-based news broadcaster Al Jazeera. Netjes does not work for Al Jazeera, however. She reports for a Dutch broadcaster, BNR Nieuwsradio, and for a Dutch daily newspaper, Het Parool.
The prosecutors' complaint listed a mangled version of Netjes’ name, but the social security number accompanying it matched hers. Such confusion is not uncommon; Egyptian legal documents often list Westerners’ middle names as their family names.
Netjes denied any wrongdoing. “It is tremendously frightening that you suddenly have all sorts of false accusations against you,” BNR’s website quoted her as saying.
At least three of the Al Jazeera journalists listed in the complaint are already in jail. They are Mohamed Fahmy, the Egyptian-Canadian Cairo bureau chief for Al Jazeera English, and two colleagues: Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed. They have been detained since Dec. 29.
On Tuesday, journalists and supporters in Nairobi, Kenya, where Greste is based, demonstrated outside the Egyptian Embassy, calling for the release of the three. Supporters also launched a worldwide Twitter campaign (#freeajstaff), with journalists and others posting self-portraits with their mouths covered in tape as a gesture of solidarity.
Among foreign media outlets, Al Jazeera has thus far been the principal target of the authorities’ accusations of support for deposed president Mohamed Morsi’s Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood. However, the case has sparked broader concerns, in part because the charges lodged against Al Jazeera journalists appear to take aim at widely accepted news-gathering practices, such as shooting and editing video of pro-Morsi demonstrations.
Egyptian authorities have also been vague on the question of whether it is now considered a crime merely to speak to supporters of the Brotherhood. The group has been formally designated a terrorist organization, and Morsi is on trial, with the latest session held Tuesday.
Al Jazeera’s problems have been magnified because it is owned by Qatar’s royal emir, and Egypt is locked in a dispute with the Persian Gulf state over its opposition to the popularly supported coup that toppled Morsi in July. Relations remain tense; on Tuesday the Qatari charge d’affaires in Cairo was summoned to the Foreign Ministry, which demanded that Qatar hand over Brotherhood fugitives who have taken refuge there.