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“The Egyptian government knew their own secret service was making a huge mistake”

“The Egyptian government knew their own secret service was making a huge mistake”

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Dutch journalist Rena Netjes sounds furious over the phone. She didn’t get much sleep last night.

“There are so many lies being spread, including by the Egyptian ambassador in the Netherlands,” says Rena. “I did have permission to do my job in Egypt. Until December 31, 2013, I was working with a permanent press card. Since January 14, I had a temporary one.”

Last Monday, she was one of the convicted Al Jazeera English journalists that received a ten year prison sentence in absentia for ‘working, financing and falsifying footage for Al Jazeera in order to defame the Egyptian state’.

However, Netjes has never worked for Al Jazeera English, as the organization has confirmed and the proof against her is non-existent. “The fact that the Egyptian court failed to even get my name and passport number right represents [how] the entire trial [proceeded]. A non-existing Dutch name, ‘Johanna Indienetta,’ with a non-existing passport number is convicted of being a terrorist. The Egyptians never made a connection to me, Rena Netjes. All they knew is that this person was a member of a terrorist network,” explains Rena.

“I cannot travel to any Arab or African country anymore. Even traveling to some European countries is not possible anymore. Let alone ever going back to Egypt where I lived for four years. I am not surprised, though. Justice does not exist in Egypt, nor does freedom of press.”

Dutch journalist Rena Netjes. Photo: AFP
Dutch journalist Rena Netjes. Photo: AFP

 

‘The government put a lot of effort in helping me out’

Netjes lived in Rehab City, a gated community within Cairo, where she worked for several Dutch and Belgian media outlets.

In December 2013, Rena had a cup of tea with Mohamed Fahmy whom she wanted to ask a couple questions about the situation in the Sinai for her own knowledge.

Two weeks later, Mohamed Fahmy was taken arrested and taken to Tora prison where he has been sentenced to spend the following seven years. On February 4th, Rena left Egypt after she discovered she was on the ‘terror list.’

“Not only the Dutch embassy kept me safe, the Egyptian government also helped me get out. The National prosecutor literally said: ‘For my part, she can leave the country because the evidence against her is very weak.’ They realised their own secret service was making a huge mistake. I was in a state of tremendous angst and knew I needed to leave Egypt. I was aware I would never be able to see some loved ones again, but the alternative was to end up as western blonde female terrorist in Egypt. And well, I would prefer to die than to end up like that in a prison cell.”

BBC network staff takes part in a Free AJ staff demonstration. Photo: BBC
BBC network staff takes part in a Free AJ staff demonstration. Photo: BBC

Monitoring the reactions on social media over the past few days reveals how many Egyptians have faith in their justice system. Even though there is doubt surrounding the legitimacy of the evidence used in the trial, many believe the Egyptian government does have their reasons for this sentence.

“Anyone would [have faith in the justice system] in this case if you are being told day and night how Western journalists are enemies of the state,” exclaims Rena during the interview.

“Everything that goes wrong inside the country is somehow the fault of the Western world. This brainwashing has made the Egyptians so paranoid that they are often suspicious. There is only freedom of press in Egypt as long you play along with the government. And even though Al-Sisi and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Justice have vowed to not intervene as the judiciary is independent, this definitely shows a deeper level of the Egyptian government’s attitude. They feel superior. They don’t care about what the rest of the world says. They are messing around and anyone saying anything about that is declared a terrorist without it backed by any functioning system.”

‘They were doing their job”

When asked how she feels about the integrity of Al-Jazeera English, Rena’s answer is clear, “Yes, the Arabic and Egyptian Al-Jazeera are very biased. But Al-Jazeera English is a different story. They are much more balanced. Mohamed Fahmy was just doing his job. And if he was in contact with the Muslim Brotherhood, so were many other journalists. It is hilarious to follow the logic that when you interview someone, you agree with them, let alone support them.”

But no matter how she personally feels about Al-Jazeera or the convicted journalists, she calls the trial ‘one big bad joke,’ citing that no evidence has been delivered by the prosecutors.

“On the contrary, it is the Egyptian prosecution that is falsifying the facts,” says Rena. “I never even worked for Al-Jazeera, nor did I finance it. I also never falsified any video footage, I don’t even know how to film or edit to begin with. Ask my colleagues.”

Ever since the arrest of the Al-Jazeera journalists in December and Rena’s escape from the country, she has not shied away from being vocal in the media.

“I am telling my story, for my own safety even though I am incredibly lucky to be safe home in the Netherlands,” explains Rena, “I will keep speaking about Egypt, also about the thousands of men and women whom are innocently imprisoned. A lot them are liberal activists. This is news because I am a Western journalist. This is daily life for many Egyptians and it has been going on for decades.”

Anti-Al Jazeera poster.
Anti-Al Jazeera poster.

The outcome of the trial has been causing uproar in the international community. The Australian Dutch, American, British, Latvian, Belgian and Swedish Ministries of Foreign Affairs have spoken out about their displeasure.

When asking Rena how she sees Egypt’s future in light of these events, she remains uncertain.

“I’m not sure about what could possibly change this. I think the only thing the Egyptian government is sensitive about at this time is money. All I hope is that Egypt can’t get away with this kind of sinister behavior. If the definition of terrorism is scaring innocent people to death, then you tell me who the real terrorists are here.”

Young girl killed in Cairo explosion
Five minor explosions rock Cairo

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  • Aimadigithat

    Al Jazeera was paid by Qatar to support the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
    But Egypt is a civilized islamic country and egyptians dont want the violent and oppressive form of islam from the Muslim Brotherhood.
    AlJazeera has been doing biased journalism on Egypt for years and now they get the punishment they deserve.
    These journalists behaved as whores, paid big money by Qatar to serve the islamist extremist agenda.
    Luckily egyptians managed to get rid of the islamists.
    Qatar should not go around with their millions to turn other countries into backward countries.

    • Sarah O. Wali

      It hurts our religion and its followers when such a lack of due process ends in the demolition of people’s lives. Study your religion to find out how people are tried, put in jail and punished and you will find that what has happened to these men is not Islamic. Egypt’s people are named in the Quran for their courage to stand up for what is right, and their conviction for the basic tenants of Islam.

      It’s sad that we have forgotten all that has led to Egypt’s fall, and all the people who tried to save it by protesting against the corrupt regime. We now lump everyone who says no with a group of people who made dire mistakes. Now we call for the heads of those who tried to help us, and stand behind the ones that destroyed our country’s foreseeable future.

      • Aimadigithat

        Dont you think that the Muslim Brotherhood made Egypt fall ?

        • Sarah O. Wali

          No. I think that the collective contribution of millions of people that have accepted corruption, bribery, nepotism and a disregard for their own country’s welfare made Egypt fall over decades.

          I also have not seen concrete evidence of any of the allegations you posed above about the Al Jazeera journalists. Nor any evidence that Al Jazeera English (a different channel than Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera Misr) gave any support to the Muslim Brotherhood.

          If we decide to blame Qatar, and these men, then everyone else that has made dire mistakes will go unpunished, and our country will never get better. If we accept the judgement on them and this ridiculous sentence passed without evidence of the charges we are placing ourselves and our children in the risky situation of having the same happen to them.

          That, Aimadigithat, is why nations fall. Because, there is no justice for their people.

          • Aimadigithat

            Sure a lot of corruption in Egypt,
            the militairy and Mubarak were no good for Egypt.
            There fore it was really sad, even dramatic that the Muslim Brotherhood also made a mess.
            I mean,ehh, I hope you agree that the MB was bad for Egypt ?
            Egypt was heading for a disaster under Mursi.
            And it was not stopped by Sisi, but by a massive popular uprise a year ago.

            The sentences on the journos are indeed extreme.
            I understood that its part of the campaign of a fierce crackdown on the MB. Egypt has a long history with violence from the MB and it looks that a violent crackdown is the only way to deal with them.

            I have followed Al Jazeera for years and they were rather supportive of the MB, they did not mention the burning of te churches and the murder on the christians and their other intolerant behavior .
            I got friends in Egypt, muslims friends, and they were scared under Mursi, they saw Egypt going down the drain.

            Do you live in Egypt ?
            Do you have any hope in the Sisi government ?

          • Sarah O. Wali

            I used to live in Egypt, and was there during Morsi’s time. He and the Brotherhood made mistakes, undoubtedly. Their biggest was that they did not trust the people around them, or the government systems that had been build under Mubarak’s time. Their supersonic ascension from an illegal political organization to the ruling body in the executive office and Parliament was marred by distrust. They had no support, and they thought they could do it without the people.

            As for Sisi, and the military, I must say I do not trust them. I still remember the massacre of Coptic Christians by SCAF using trucks to run over protesters in front of Maspero (the Egyptian Satellite building near Midan Tahrir). I know that the biggest beneficiary of the Mubarak was the military. I know that they control a large portion of the economy. They operate construction projects without having to pay taxes or for labor, and private contractors can not compete.

            There’s going to be a lot of change in Egypt in the coming years. I have no doubt that we’ll somehow be prospering on some global economic scale, yet somehow still have millions of people under the poverty level (on less than $2 a day).

            I don’t really trust governments anymore because I don’t believe they change people. Their reach, in whatever country, extends only as far as their populous lets it. That is why I say: when we, as an Egyptian people, say no to corruption, refuse to take bribes, do our work to our utmost ability and treat the people around us with justice and compassion, our country will change. Until then, I have no hope.

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Feature
@LaurieTreffers

Twenty-year-old Dutch journalist. Quite obsessed with women's rights, the Middle-East and truth. Thinks she still has the right to be a hopeless idealist.

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