International Correspondents Call for the Release of Journalists in Egypt

I helped spearhead an effort to get representatives from international media outlets to sign a statement calling for the release of journalists detained in Egypt. The result was an impressive list of more than 50 correspondents and editors from media outlets around the world, that included some of the biggest names in the mainstream press but also smaller organizations as well.

In addition to the Al Jazeera English correspondents arrested on December 29 - Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed - at least five other journalists are currently detained in Egypt, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists: Metin Turkan of Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, Abdullah Al-Shamy and Mohamed Badr of Al Jazeera, Mahmoud Abdel Nabi of Rassd Online News, and freelance photographer Mahmoud Abou Zeid, all of whom have been imprisoned for over five months.

The joint statement highlights concerns by the international press over media freedom in Egypt and the ability of journalists to do their work without fear of arrest.

Egypt: Journalism under siege?

I was interviewed, among other guests, on “Listening Post,” on Al Jazeera English talking about how covering the Muslim Brotherhood has become a minefield for the media:

Canadian journalist held in notorious Egypt jail in crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood

My piece for the Toronto Star on the imprisonment of three journalists from Al Jazeera English, one of whom, Mohamed Fahmy, is a good friend and longtime colleague:

A Canadian journalist detained in Egypt has been held for over a week in a dank, insect-infested cell inside a maximum security prison wing with no sunlight or bed for 24 hours a day, allowed out only for interrogation.

Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian citizen and the acting bureau chief for the news channel Al Jazeera English, was arrested by Egyptian authorities on Dec. 29, along with colleagues Peter Greste, an Australian correspondent and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer.

Prosecutors ordered the three men to be held for 15 days on accusations that include spreading lies harmful to national security and joining a terrorist group. An Egyptian cameraman was also arrested the same day but subsequently released.

“The charges against the Al Jazeera journalists are completely unfounded,” says Ragia Omran, a human rights lawyer who represents Greste and has also visited Fahmy several times. “It’s part of the general crackdown on the Brotherhood, opposition activists and journalists.”

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The next day the Toronto Star penned an editorial calling on the Canadian government to push for Fahmy’s release.

The dangers journalists face in Egypt

I was honored to be on a great panel talking about the dangers journalists face in Egypt with former Al Jazeera correspondent Sherine Tadros and photojournalist Mosaab Elshamy on CBC Radio’s “The Current”

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Crackdown on Brotherhood, Opposition Grows as Egypt Joins Ranks of Most Dangerous for Journalists

My last interview on Democracy Now! in 2013, along with Sherif Mansour of the Committee to Protect Journalists:

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The Case of Imprisoned Al Jazeera Journalist Abdullah Al-Shamy

My piece in The Nation about one of six journalists currently behind bars in Egypt:

The Abu Zaabal prison complex lies some twenty miles northeast of Cairo, where the dense urban cacophony of the capital quickly gives way to rolling fields, rubbish-strewn canals and small clusters of hastily built red brick buildings. Outside the main gate—a pair of large metal doors flanked by Pharaonic-themed columns—sit four army tanks, their long snouts pointed up and out.

Gehad Khaled, a 20-year-old with an easy laugh and youthful intensity, has been coming to Abu Zaabal on a regular basis for nearly four months to visit her imprisoned husband. Abdullah Al-Shamy was among hundreds rounded up on August 14, the day security forces violently stormed two sit-ins in Cairo and Giza that formed the epicenter of support for the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, leaving up to 1,000 people dead.

Abdullah was at the Rabaa Al-Adeweya sit-in for work. As a correspondent for the satellite news channel Al Jazeera, the 25-year-old journalist had been stationed at the pro-Morsi encampment for six weeks, becoming a familiar face to the channel’s viewers in one of the summer’s biggest international news stories.

Gehad would visit Abdullah at the sit-in, where he was working around the clock. The two had been married in September 2012, though Abdullah spent little time at home because of regular deployments to countries like Mali, Libya, Ghana and Turkey for Al Jazeera. “The longest period we spent together since we were married was in Rabaa,” she says with a smile.

Now, Gehad sees Abdullah just once every two weeks inside Abu Zaabal, waiting hours each time for a fifteen-minute visit. She brings him food, water, clothes, newspapers, books, toiletries and other necessities to alleviate the austere conditions inside Egypt’s jails.

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As New Protest Law Looms, Egypt Faces Harsher Authoritarian Order Than the Revolution Overthrew

I did a segment from the Democracy Now! studio while on a visit to New York about the latest developments in Egypt:

Dakhla: A Refuge From Occupied Western Sahara

My piece in The Nation on Western Sahara filed from the Dakhla refugee camp in southwestern Algeria.

Tchla Bchere has visited Western Sahara, the land she calls her rightful home, only once. Born and raised in a refugee camp in the remote desert expanse of southwestern Algeria, the 30-year-old activist has always clung to the promise of an independent homeland, free from Moroccan control. Yet in the entwined contradictions of hope and despair that have shaped her life as a Sahrawi refugee, Bchere never wants to have children—to have them grow up like her, in a state of permanent displacement and consigned to a life of waiting in the harsh desert.

“My hope has no limits,” she says. “But I don’t want to raise a child in this situation.”

Bchere is a refugee of Africa’s last colony, the site of one of the world’s longest-running conflicts and one of its most invisible.

Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco since 1975, when Spain, the former colonial power, signed an agreement handing over control of the territory to Morocco and Mauritania, allowing the two countries to invade. The United States and France supported the forced annexation.

The Moroccan army carried out brutal attacks against civilians, including bombing, strafing and dropping napalm on those trying to escape the fighting. The violence prompted nearly half the Sahrawi population to flee on foot and cross into Algeria, where they were allowed to settle near the town of Tindouf.

For close to four decades, nearly half the native population of Western Sahara has lived as refugees in Algeria; the other half lives as a minority population under foreign rule. Two parallel societies, one living in exile, the other under occupation.

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Dakhla refugee camp

The Dakhla refugee camp lies in a remote corner of southwestern Algeria. For nearly four decades, tens of thousands of refugees from Western Sahara have lived in exile here after Morocco and Mauritania invaded their homeland. I had the opportunity to spend several days there with the FiSahara international film festival organized by Spanish activists every year to raise awareness of the plight of the Sahrawis.

Click on the image to view the full photo set.

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Jail conditions improve for detained Canadians in Egypt: lawyer

More in the Toronto Star:

In a sign that the Egyptian authorities are moving the case of two detained Canadians up their priority list, lawyer Marwa Farouk said that “an aide to the minister of the interior personally visited them” on Wednesday.

Farouk’s law firm, meanwhile, confirmed that John Greyson and Tarek Loubani have ended their hunger strike in Cairo’s grim Tora Prison where they have been detained without charge since Aug. 16. They were arrested during violent clashes between security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi.

Friends and family had feared for the two men, who consumed only juice and water for two weeks to protest their jail conditions and detention without charge, which was extended by 45 days to mid-November.

The Canadians’ detention has brought embarrassment and unwanted attention to Egypt’s military-backed interim government, which earlier this week announced to world leaders at the UN that it is on a “road map” to democracy.

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