Canadian media organizations call on Egypt to release Al Jazeera journalists

Owen Watson, executive producer for news at Al Jazeera English & Tom Henheffer, executive director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression hold up #FreeAJStaff signs at a press conference in Toronto on Feb. 6. Photo: Preeteesh Peetabh Singh/The Dialog

Owen Watson, executive producer for news at Al Jazeera English and Tom Henheffer, executive director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression hold up #FreeAJStaff signs at a press conference in Toronto on Feb. 6.
Photo: Preeteesh Peetabh Singh/The Dialog

The Al Jazeera Media Network and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) held a press conference on Feb. 6 in Toronto to demand the immediate release of journalists detained in Egypt.

On Dec. 29, Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy along with Peter Greste and Bahar Mohammed of Al Jazeera English were imprisoned in Cairo.

According to a report in the Canadian Press on Feb. 10, Fahmy’s family say they expect a trial next week.

Fahmy is accused of using illegal equipment, broadcasting false news and being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood which has been labeled a terrorist organization by Egypt’s military-led government.

Michelle Shephard, a CJFE board member and national security reporter for the Toronto Star said, “the charges are ludicrous.”

Owen Watson, the executive news producer at Al Jazeera English said, “They were just doing their job.”

According to Watson, Fahmy required medical attention as his shoulder was badly injured, but instead he is being forced to sleep on the floor.

Their Al Jazeera colleagues Abdullah Al Shami and cameraman Mohammed Badr were also detained in August 2013. While Badr has been acquitted of all charges and released recently, Shami remains in custody.

John Stackhouse, editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail said that Fahmy should not be treated differently by the Canadian government although he has a dual citizenship.

“There is only one Canadian, and we are all entitled to the same treatment from the government and from each other,” said Stackhouse.

Stackhouse also brushed aside the suggestion that Al Jazeera is not a legitimate international news organization, as “hogwash.”

The United Nations and United States of America have already criticized and condemned the detention of journalists in Egypt. White House press secretary, Jay Carney said that they should be protected and permitted to do their job.

Canada’s stand on this has been “soft”, “sometimes mute” and “shameful” according to the members of the media coalition present at the press conference.

On the silence maintained by the Canadian government CBC veteran journalist Avi Lewis said, “Free speech is contagious, and silence and censorship are contagious too.”

“This is unacceptable to all of us around the world as journalists. The silence of any journalist anywhere on the planet is an attempt to silence us all in one form or another,” said Stackhouse.

John Greyson, a filmmaker and professor at York University emphasized that government intervention  makes a difference as they did in his and Takek Loubani’s case when they were detained in Egypt for 50 days in the fall.

Greyson described his and Loubani’s experience at the Egyptian jail as a feeling of going “down the rabbit hole” with no hope of coming back.

Dave Enders, a former colleague and a friend of Fahmy who was also present at the conference said that Fahmy was aware of the possibility of being jailed and he told Enders “to make some noise when I get arrested.”

People from all over the world have come out in support of journalists detained in Egypt. Twitter campaign #FreeAJStaff has picked up momentum.

The Dialog Collective at George Brown College and The Canadian University Press have also extended support by signing on to a joint statement led by CJFE demanding their release.

You can sign in the petition too.

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Canadian media organizations call on Egypt to release Al Jazeera journalists