Wednesday, July 16, 2014
To mark his 200th day in prison, Mohamed Fahmy released the following statement through his family 200 days of injustice, solitary confinement and collective punishment has left me and my colleagues, Peter Greste and Baher Mohammed, more determined than ever to fight this war against freedom of speech. Throughout this ordeal, our families, lawyers and the Al Jazeera English management spared no effort to free us. We all respected the Egyptian judicial system and played along in what has become a theatrical trial broadcast all over the world. As the authorities paraded me and my colleagues out of the cage, it became evident to the journalism community that this trial was another sign of the crackdown on any dissent in Egypt and a subliminal message to local journalists who do not conform to the government’s line. The three of us wrapped our arms around each other seconds before the verdict, and kept our composure in front of an anxious courtroom filled with troubled family members and colleagues. Like a military platoon, our motto was “leave no one behind.” Indeed, the judge shattered any logic and disregarded basic human rights when he sentenced us to 7 and 10 years of maximum security. A moment of clarity flares my memory as I sit writing this letter in my navy blue prison garb reserved for convicts. I recall the prosecutor, during the initial interrogation, when he told me, off the record: “You are here because of Qatar.” The same prosecutor stood in court and said that Al Jazeera destroyed Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya. I lost sleep for 10 days until I returned to court and yelled at the judge: “TV stations can’t destroy a country. These accusations are an insult to the martyrs of the media who died covering these wars.” I now declare that this mindset is also an insult to the people who revolted and toppled dictators who oppressed their humanity. Even the most educated Egyptian policeman considers the simple profession of broadcasting street protests to the west as an act of treason. So, did we even have a fair trial or the basic right of due process? During the 3 months as Egypt’s bureau chief for Al Jazeera English prior to my arrest, I have worked with the bravest team ever and we produced balanced reports regardless of the constant harassment by authorities and the masses deceived by the campaign of incitement against the channel. 18 days prior to our arrest, state-owned newspaper “Al Ahram” published a fabricated article stating that the Al Jazeera office was raided and 11 Qataris were arrested and weapons were confiscated. Many skeptical Egyptians are surprised at the unprecedented global support we have and the relentless bullhorn diplomacy calling for our release. This global outcry is simply due to the fact that after 12 hearings, the court failed to present a single piece of evidence to support allegations that we falsified news or aided a terrorist group. The Al Jazeera reporters who were tried in absentia and sentenced to 10 years in prison, were not even allowed to present a defense in court. In prison, I have learned to turn suffering into tragic optimism; a human achievement. I see the global support and continuous campaigns as an achievement for all of us: rallying, tweeting and simply saying “journalism is not a crime.” The message is clear to world leaders:“Don’t mess with the press. Freedom of speech is part of the democracy you hope to promote.” Weeks after our verdict, five journalists were sentenced to 10 years in Myanmar. A female journalist in Iran was sentenced to 2 years and flogged 50 times. Their so-called crime, like ours, is journalism. If this retaliatory attitude by governments has become a trend to instill fear against hard-hitting investigative journalists, then we have a long battle ahead of us. A war of attrition we are prepared to fight, even after our release from prison. Mohamed Fadel Fahmy Al Jazeera English Egypt Bureau Chief
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