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African press review 2 January 2015

Independent dailies in Egypt report on the court's decision to send three Al Jazeera journalists for re-trial.

Let's begin in Egypt, where the day's big story - for the independent papers at least - is the court's decision to send for re-trial three journalists working for the Qatar-based TV channel - Al Jazeera.

The three journalists - Australian reporter Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed are to remain in detention until the first session of retrial. They have spent over a year in prison since their arrest in December 2013.

The three say they are not guilty and that they were simply reporting the news as it happened.

The court's ruling is the lead story in the Daily News – which characterises itself as "Egypt’s only Daily Independent Newspaper In English."

The Daily News explores the background of the case and its consequences.

Notably the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera suspended the broadcast of its Egyptian channel on the 22nd of December – soon after Egyptian and Qatari leaders formalised a Saudi-brokered reconciliation between the two countries.

Relations between the two have been tense since the Egyptian regime accused Qatar of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood

The paper says that the Doha Centre for Media Freedom has called for the release of the three journalists.

Several rights groups and organisations – it reminds us – say that Egypt has been severely cracking down on freedom of press and expression since President Mohammed Morsi was overthrown by the military in 2013.

On its opinion pages, the Daily News considers what it calls “The Sisification of Egypt”.

This is not to say that Egypt is becoming a nation of mincing, limp-wristed cissies. Rather – the papers says – “If your wishes for 2014 included respect of human rights, a civil state and respectable judiciary, the year was an efficient delivery system of pain. The stark reality is that the majority of Egyptians prefer to exalt in Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s iron-fisted glory.”

In case you missed it – Al-Sisi, a former Field Marshal – leads the ruling military regime. The paper reminds the forgetful that “This ‘fist’ has seen the arrest of over 10,000 Egyptians this year alone, including hundreds of minors.”

Across the continent, papers in the Gambia report on the aftermath of an attempted coup d'etat there which – unlike the one in Egypt – this one failed.

Freedom Newspaper says that “The crackdown has started in earnest.” The paper says it can reveal that “The mother of the murdered coup leader – Lt. Colonel Lamin Sanneh – has been arrested. Ms. Meta Njie was arrested alongside Lamin Sanneh's brothers.

Freedom's second lead quotes Gambia's de Facto dictator, Yahya Jammeh – speaking for the first time since the failed coup – as saying that the State House attackers were western backed terrorists – Gambian dissidents based in America, Germany and England. Jammeh vowed to kill all would-be attackers. Jammeh was on a visit to Dubai when the attempt was made.

Other Gambian papers look on the bright side.

According to the Daily Observer “Peace and calm continue to prevail in Gambia.”

The Point's top headline quotes a government press release along similar lines – claiming that “contrary to rumours being circulated, peace and calm continue to prevail” in the country.

The Point says the “Gambia government would like to urge the public and all businesses to continue with their normal activities.”

The bi-weekly paper – Foroyaa – is bolder, declaring that “Uncertainty prevails as rumours and speculation persist.”

What was really happening, it asks. Was it a coup or mutiny or whatever? Were there casualties? What is the nature and extent of the casualties, and so on and so forth?

Friends and relatives abroad kept making calls to find out but there were no answers, only rumours and speculation. The government remained tight lipped and Radio Gambia going off air intensified the rumours and speculation.

“The government is duty bound to act in a transparent, accountable and responsive manner and should not delay further in explaining what had happened,” the paper argues, “so that the people will escape uncertainty and have peace of mind.”

Now, wouldn't that be a welcome change.

Finally, the Guardian in Nigeria publishes an open letter headlined: Mutiny – Open letter to President Jonathan – from Prince C. Ifoh, a Nigerian writer who routinely suggests possible solutions to the malaise in African politics

Sir, he writes, “My concern is for the 54 Nigerian soldiers who have been convicted of mutiny, and sentenced to death by a court martial. It is true that these men were part of the Special Forces division ordered in August to retake three lost towns in Borno State, and that they refused to fight. But following the facts on ground, this is not enough reason to blatantly kill 54 young Nigerians.”

His heart-felt plea for clemency is a chilling reminder of the challenges faced by Nigeria and more than a few other African nations as we enter the new year.

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