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A Canadian Journalist is Still Imprisoned in Egypt and His Colleagues Want Him Out

In December Egypt’s military-backed government arrested a trio of Al Jazeera journalists, accusing them of operating a “terrorist media network." Last week, as part of a day of global action, dozens of journalists gathered at Toronto's City Hall to...

All photos via the author.

On December 29th, 2013, Egypt’s military-backed government arrested a trio of Al Jazeera journalists, accusing them of operating a “terrorist media network."

Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian, Peter Greste, an Australian, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian, were charged with collaborating with the Muslim Brotherhood to deliberately defame and discredit the Egyptian state.

Affiliation or contact with the organization is now a crime, in spite of the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood’s political leader, the now ousted Mohamed Morsi, was elected Egypt’s president less than two years ago.


The Muslim Brotherhood “remains the single largest and best organized social and political force in Egypt,” wrote Peter Greste in a letter from Tora Prison. “How do you accurately and fairly report on Egypt’s ongoing political struggle without talking to everyone involved?” Greste asked.

In a move that was part of a global day of action, Al Jazeera’s Canada bureau organized a rally outside Toronto City Hall, Friday February 28th, to call for the release of their comrades and send a message to the Canadian and Egyptian governments that “journalism is not a crime."

I packed my balaclava expecting a demonstration organized by a “terrorist media network” to be unruly, but the crowd consisted mostly of journalists trying to interview each other.

“They’ve put three of the better journalists in the world in jail just for being journalists,” said Daniel Lak.  Lak is Al Jazeera’s Canada correspondent, he’s previously worked with BBC Asia and Europe for 25 years and is insulted by the allegations against his colleagues. "Broadcasting false news? We don’t do that. Our colleagues in CNN, BBC, ABC, and CBC don’t do that."

Al Jazeera endured a lot of dangerous criticism while building its credibility as a global news source. In 2001 a U.S. missile hit Al Jazeera’s Afghanistan office in Kabul. In 2003 another US missile struck Al Jazeera’s Iraq office in Baghdad, killing one reporter and wounding another.  A leaked transcript of a 2004 meeting between George W. Bush and Tony Blair revealed Bush planned to bomb Al Jazeera International headquarters in Qatar."


“Particularly among conservatives in North America, including here in Canada, there’s an ignorance about what Al Jazeera stands for in the developing world," said Tony Burman, the former Director of Al Jazeera English, who now teaches journalism at Ryerson University. “The relative silence from the Canadian government has the potential of imperiling the security and safety of Mohamed Fahmy."

It's another epic international failure that we’ve come to expect from the Conservative Stephen Harper government. Canada has not joined the United Nations, US and Australian governments calling for the journalists’ release.

The most recent example of the Canadian government dragging its diplomatic heels with Egypt was the arrest of John Greyson and Tarek Loubani in Cairo. Greyson and Loubani were freed after 51 days of detention.

Margaret Wente’s column "Freed Canadians are radical grandstanders’ in the Globe and Mail labeled Greyson and Loubani “hardcore anti-Israel activists” who “should have known what they were getting into."

What didn’t help was that Loubani, an emergency physician, had been treating bullet wounds of anti-government protestors in Cairo, while Greyson, a gay filmmaker, caught the action on camera.  Greyson and Loubani were travelling through Cairo on their way to deliver medical supplies to a hospital in Gaza.  Canada's reluctant support came following intense pressure from the public, boosted with a petition signed by celebrities, including Sarah Polley, Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron, and Robert De Niro.


CBC Radio's Jian Ghomeshi in the crowd.

In an e-mail to VICE in late January, Mohamed Fahmy’s brother Sherif wrote, "This case is prolonging for a reason none of us is aware of, but what we do know is that the more time this case takes, the more dangerous it gets.”

“It's not right. It's not fair. It's something that affects all journalists,” stated CBC news anchor Peter Mansbridge in a Canadian Journalists for Free Expression press release. Mansbridge was notably absent at the rally; he may have been busy getting paid to speak at an oil industry banquet, but who can say for sure?

“What we want to hear is a public statement from our Foreign Minister in Ottawa,” said Al Jazeera’s Jet Belgraver. “This could happen to any one of us, so I think its important we get together and we all raise our voice."

Mohammed Fahmy, who has reported for the New York Times and CNN had been with Al Jazeera for only three months when he got arrested.  Fahmy is being held in solitary confinement in a cell without sunlight but with plenty of insects. Fahmy is facing 15 years in prison. His family wants him home much sooner. Does Canada?  @lifeortheatre