By Alexandra Zakreski
This afternoon Al Jazeera and CJFE held a press conference
calling for the immediate release of the Al Jazeera journalists currently detained in Egypt. CJFE has also initiated a petition to free the journalists in question which we invite individuals to sign.
CLICK HERE TO SIGN THE PETITION.
Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and his colleagues Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed have been imprisoned since December 29, 2013. Al Jazeera Arabic journalist Abdullah Elshamy is also detained in Egypt and has been for the past six months without charge. Elshamy’s colleague, Al Jazeera Arabic cameraman Mohamed Badr, was finally released
on February 5, 2014, after spending six months in detention.
The panelists at today’s press conference included:
- • Owen Watson, Al Jazeera executive producer for newsgathering
- • Tony Burman, former Managing Director of Al Jazeera English
- • John Stackhouse, Editor-in-Chief of The Globe and Mail
- • Tom Henheffer, Executive Director of CJFE
- • Michelle Shephard, CJFE Board member and Toronto Star National Security Reporter
- • Olivia Ward, Toronto Star Foreign Affairs Reporter
- • John Greyson, filmmaker and York University professor
- • Avi Lewis, journalist and CBC veteran
- • Dave Enders, a friend and former colleague of Mohamed Fahmy
The speakers largely focused on ways to expedite the journalists’ release, with all in agreement that there needs to be an international call to action and a decisive response by the Canadian government to free Fahmy and his colleagues. Addressing concerns that speaking out too loudly could endanger the journalists imprisoned, Olivia Ward stated that “keeping it quiet never works.”
There was also an expression of collective outrage and frustration at how little the Canadian government has done to intervene in this case. This was clearest when John Greyson spoke, as he emphasized both the lack of urgency in the government’s response to Fahmy’s detention and the enormous difference it could make in the outcome of his case, as it did when he was detained in 2013. Finally, a common thread that ran throughout each speaker’s comments was deep concern that a group of professional journalists have been painted as terrorists when all they are guilty of is doing their jobs. Journalism is not terrorism.
The detention of these journalists has severe implications not only for press freedom in Egypt and access to information about the country, but also for local journalists working in the country. Michelle Shephard acknowledged that foreign journalists are often afforded a more privileged treatment than their local colleagues working on the ground. If foreign reporters for Al Jazeera, a respected international news network, are being imprisoned on fabricated charges, then what does this mean for local Egyptian journalists who stray from the government line?
The international community must take action for the Al Jazeera journalists imprisoned in Egypt and the Canadian government must intervene for Mohamed Fahmy’s immediate and unconditional release to send a message to Egyptian authorities that attempts to stifle free expression will not be tolerated.
For more details from the press conference, please see our liveblog
Al Jazeera and CJFE also released a joint statement
with concerned organizations.
Take action by signing our petition:
Can't see the petition below? Click here.
Alexandra Zakreski is CJFE's International Programs Assistant