Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called on foreign correspondents in Egypt to exercise diligence in reporting news in the country, following confusion over a story about high-profile lawyer Amal Clooney.
On Friday, British newspaper The Guardian reported Clooney was warned by “Egyptian officials” that she “risked arrest” by launching a report in Cairo critical of the country’s judicial system.
The article was based on an interview with Clooney following an appeal hearing for her clients Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste, Al Jazeera journalists imprisoned on charges of spreading false news.
The report in question, written in February 2014 before Clooney became involved in the Al Jazeera case, criticised the Egyptian judicial process for not being as independent as it could be. For instance, the report questioned the practice of allowing Ministry of Justice officials the ability to pick particular judges for politicised cases. These judges would be relied upon to dispense a severe verdict which the government desires.
The Guardian article implied Clooney had been recently threatened with arrest in connection with the Al Jazeera case, rather than in early 2014 and before the current administration. The article does not point to which ministry or official the threats derived from.
However, a subsequent statement by Clooney following the confusion surrounding the story denies that Egyptian officials ever threatened her. Instead, the statement said “experts in Egyptian affairs” informed her that she and her International Bar Association colleagues risked arrest if they were to attempt to launch their report in Cairo.
The foreign ministry’s statement alludes to a failure on The Guardian’s part to independently verify whether Clooney’s report of a threat of arrest was made by government officials. It called on journalists to “exercise caution, fact-check circulating information and confirm it through official sources before publishing”.
In the statement, spokesman Badr Abdelatty, stresses “the importance of respect for media standards and rules of professional credibility in the news and care to make sure it is correct to avoid…an abuse of the country’s image abroad”.
The article in question was amended several days later following the confusion to include a refutation from the Egyptian police, with the interior ministry spokesman denying that Clooney is “listed for arrest”.
“The most basic professional rules require verification of the accuracy of the news before it is published and drawn from official sources, as well as the need to disseminate any formal correction or comment in the same place and space,” Abdelatty said.
According to a statement via Twitter, The Guardian’s correspondent Patrick Kingsley said that Clooney “checked and confirmed the quotation before publication” of the original article. This was despite her later correction to claim the threats of arrest came from “experts”.