Dutch journalist flees Egypt after indictment on terror charges

Ayat Al-Tawy, Tuesday 4 Feb 2014

The Dutch journalist flees the country after discovering she was listed among 20 terrorism suspects, of whom 4 are foreigners

Correspondent Rena Netjes
A video snapshot of Dutch journalist Rena Netjes

A Dutch journalist who, along with three other foreigners, has been put on trial by Egypt's top prosecutor over terrorism-related charges, has fled the country, her employers said Tuesday.

In a case that has provoked an international outcry, Egypt last week referred to trial 20 journalists – four foreigners and 16 Egyptians allegedly working for the Qatari Al Jazeera media network – on charges related to joining and aiding a terrorist group and endangering national security.

Egyptian authorities have been outraged by what they deem as biased coverage on the part of the Qatar-based broadcaster in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood movement of toppled president Mohamed Morsi -- officially designated a terrorist organisation by the government last December.

A statement from the prosecutor-general said the foreign defendants include an Australian, two Britons and a Dutchwoman but did not disclose their names, prompting the Dutch Association of Journalists (NEY) to request clarification from the Egyptian Embassy in Netherlands.

Freelance journalist Rena Netjes, who is a correspondent for private Dutch radio station BNR Nieuwsradio and Amsterdam-based daily Het Parool, said she discovered her presence on a list of 20 terrorism suspects when she identified a "number that corresponded with my social security number."

Netjes has denied working for Al Jazeera, saying she only conducted an interview last December with one of the network's specialists on radical groups in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

"They [the authorities] have swept everything together... visiting journalists are suddenly terrorists," Netjes was quoted by BNR as saying on Tuesday.

The 16 Egyptian defendants in the case are to face trial for joining a terrorist organisation as well as harming national unity and social peace.

The foreigners are accused of "aiding and financing" a terrorist group and "airing false news" in order to "undermine the state's status and disrupt public security."

Netjes is now en route from Dubai to Amsterdam because "it is not safe for her in Egypt," said BNR.

Only Australian Peter Greste remains in custody, while the other foreign defendants will be tried in absentia.

"... It is tremendously scary that you suddenly have all sorts of false accusations against you...so you can be locked in a notorious prison for years," Netjes added.

The woman was briefly jailed in Egypt last year when individuals accused her of espionage as she was carrying out interviews with people,  and handed her over to the police.

Al Jazeera's Cairo offices have been closed down since 3 July, after being raided by security forces in the immediate aftermath of Morsi’s ouster.

"This is a kind of hysterical failure by a regime that shows signs of dictatorship. This is very disturbing. Al Jazeera is clearly suspicious and I do not know why," Netjes said.

"The explanation could be that the transmitter is the plaything of the emir of Qatar, [and it] is evidently in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood."

A strong supporter and financial backer of Egypt during Morsi's rule, Qatar has strongly opposed his ouster and the ensuing crackdown on his Brotherhood group.

The recent arrests of journalists have raised fears of an extending crackdown on dissent to curtail press freedom.

Amnesty International has condemned the trial as a "major setback to media freedom" and "a brazen attempt to stifle independent reporting in Egypt."

The group's secretary-general, Salil Shetty, said the trial "sends the chilling message that only one narrative is acceptable in Egypt today, that which is sanctioned by the Egyptian authorities."

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