Two prominent organizations have called on Egyptian authorities to immediately release five journalists — including one Canadian — imprisoned in that country.
At a press conference in Toronto Feb. 6, Al Jazeera Media Network and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) denounced the imprisonment and demanded action.
Tony Burman, the former managing director for Al Jazeera English, condemned the Canadian government’s lack of action.
“The Canadian government’s actions so far have been shameful,” Burman said. “We expect and demand more from them.”
Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, Australian journalist Peter Greste and Egyptian television producer Bahr Mohammed have been held in Egypt since Dec. 29. They joined other imprisoned journalists Abdullah Al Shami and Mohamed Badr. All five men work for Al Jazeera networks.
The men face charges including belonging to a terrorist organization, possessing illegal broadcasting equipment and spreading false news that threatens Egyptian national security.
Burman said the Australian government has made a concerted effort to pressure the Egyptian authorities to release Peter Greste.
The same cannot be said for the Canadian government which has taken a much softer approach to getting Fahmy released.
During the press conference, the panel said a wire service reported that Egyptian authorities may have released Mohamed Badr, but that could not be independently confirmed.
Al Jazeera English Executive Producer Owen Watson said Fahmy’s medical condition is of immediate concern. Fahmy has a shoulder injury requiring care but is not receiving medical attention and is sleeping on the floor.
Despite the hardship Watson said Fahmy has “full faith Canada will get him out of this.”
That faith has yet to be rewarded. The Canadian government has made little progress in having Fahmy released.
Watson says Al Jazeera expects Egypt to release all the imprisoned journalists including Fahmy.
Impact on Freedom in Egypt
Efforts to curtail freedom of expression and freedom of the press by Egyptian authorities represent a threat to all reporters in the country.
Toronto Star reporter Michelle Shepard reminded all in attendance that these five journalists are not the only members of the media in prison in Egypt.
“This issue speaks to free press at its core,” Shepard said.
Efforts to free these five men will also help other imprisoned journalists in Egypt and help ease the climate of censorship.
Her comments were echoed by CJFE executive director Tom Henheffer who criticized the Egyptian laws the men are being held under.
“Journalism is not terrorism,” Henheffer said. Treating journalism as a criminal act only hurts democracy.
Henheffer asked the Canadian government to publicly condemn Egypt’s actions and demand Fahmy’s release.