January 27, 2014

Al Jazeera | The Sydney Morning Herald

Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste’s letter from an Egyptian prison begins with this:

I am nervous as I write this. I am in my cold prison cell after my first official exercise session – four glorious hours in the grass yard behind our block and I don’t want that right to be snatched away.

I’ve been locked in my cell 24 hours a day for the past 10 days, allowed out only for visits to the prosecutor for questioning, so the chance for a walk in the weak winter sunshine is precious.

According to a story published Saturday by Al Jazeera, Greste, Baher Mohamed and Mohammed Fahmy have been in jail in Egypt since Dec. 29.

In a letter written on paper passed to him by people in his neighbouring cells, Greste wrote of the way in which his Egyptian colleagues were being held.

On Sunday, Anne Davies with The Sydney Morning Herald wrote about the treatment of the Australian-born journalist, whose 15-day detention has been extended for another 15 days.

Federal secretary of the the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the union representing Australian journalists, Chris Warren said Mr Greste and his colleagues from Al-Jazeera English language service, were being made an example of because of perceptions within the Egyptian government that the Arabic Al-Jazeera was supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood.

‘‘Obviously, what we are seeing is a serious crackdown on freedom of speech that its affecting both Egyptian and foreign journalists reporting from Egypt,’’ he said.

In his letter, Greste wrote about the conditions at the jail and why he decided to speak out. His arrest, he wrote, “is not a mistake.”

I can no longer pretend it’ll go away by keeping quiet and crossing my fingers. I have no particular fight with the Egyptian government, just as I have no interest in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood or any other group here. But as a journalist I am committed to defending a fundamental freedom of the press that no one in my profession can credibly work without. One that is deemed vital to the proper functioning of any open democracy, including Egypt’s with its new constitution.

Of course we will continue to fight this from inside prison and through the judicial system here. But our freedom, and more importantly the freedom of the press here, will not come without loud sustained pressure from human rights and civil society groups, individuals and governments who understand that Egypt stability depends as much as on its ability to hold open honest conversations among its people and the world, as it does on its ability to crush violence.

On Friday. Sen. John McCain criticized Egypt for the detention of Greste and his colleagues, including Abdullah Al Shami and Mohamed Bader, who have been imprisoned for five months.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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