Campaign to free detained Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt goes viral

Tuesday 04-02-2014 05:03 PM
Campaign to free detained Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt goes viral

Local & International journalists protest at Egyptian embassy in Nairobi - Photo from Kenya Journalists Petition for Release of Peter Greste FB page


By Passant Darwish

In solidarity with Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste and others detained in Egypt, a Twitter campaign and protest was launched in Kenya.

Greste, an Australian, along with Al Jazeera English's Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were arrested and detained in December, and referred to a criminal court on 29 January.

The three men and 17 other Al Jazeera media personnel face charges of belonging to a terrorist organization and broadcasting false information to "convince the international community that Egypt was undergoing a civil war."

The campaign, under the Twitter hashtag #freeajstaff, started with Kenya's journalists posting their self-portraits with taped mouths in solidarity with their detained colleagues. It soon snowballed with both journalists and others across the world posting the same pictures and tweeting for their release.

"Journalism is not terrorism. #Egypt must release @PeterGreste and his colleagues now. #FREEAJSTAFF,” tweeted Australian @KateSeewald, who attached her self-portrait with her mouth taped.

A Twitter user named @SeanAntonOakley directed a tweet to Egypt's authorities saying "Egypt, don't dishonour the revolutions by arresting #AlJazeera journos. Those who died for #freedom didn't do it for nothing. #FreeAJStaff.”

About 100 people gathered in front of the Egyptian embassy in Kenya, where Greste has long been a resident, after a call by the Foreign Correspondents' Association of East Africa (FCAEA). The demonstrators covered their mouths with tape and held signs saying, "being a journalist is not a crime" and "No rest till we see Greste.”

A leaked video of the arrest of Al Jazeera's staff published on Al-Tahrir Egyptian satellite TV channel shows the cameras and broadcasting equipment used by them set with dramatic music. The second half of the video includes questions directed at Fahmy from a police officer such as "Does Al Jazeera pay you per interview or monthly?" and "Does your payment differ from one interview to the other?"

The video's release helped spark the protest and Twitter campaign against the treatment of the journalists.

Of the 20 defendants who face trial, eight are detained, while 12 are on the run with arrest warrants against them. Four of the defendants are foreigners, while the rest are Egyptians.

Al Jazeera's Cairo offices have been closed down since 3 July, after being raided by security forces in the immediate aftermath of the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood.

The only Al Jazeera-affiliated channel to have been banned with a court order is Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr, while all other sub-channels have been closed without an order.

Launched weeks after the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak and widely perceived as the voice of the Brotherhood, the Mubasher Misr channel operated for over two years without accreditation.

The network, now broadcasts from Qatar and can still be viewed in Egypt, was accused by authorities and local media of biased coverage in favour of the Brotherhood.

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