UPDATED: Canadian journalists detained overseas

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Mohamed Fahmy has been in an Egyptian prison for 300 days

Press freedom is being repressed around the world. / Matthew Barre

Press freedom is being repressed around the world. / Matthew Barre

***Updated Nov. 3, 4:30 p.m: On his 300 day of imprisonment Mohamed Fahmy reaches out in a letter. Click the link below to read it***

https://cjfe.org/blog/freeajstaff-letter-al-jazeeras-mohamed-fahmy-his-300th-day-egyptian-prison

Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy has been in an Egyptian prison for almost three hundred days, facing a further seven years for crimes against the new regime. His supposed crime is said to have been spreading false news about Egypt and conspiring with the now-illegal Muslim Brotherhood party.

Fahmy is the English bureau chief of the Al-Jazeera office in Cairo. For a number of years the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera media network has created a narrative viewed as harmful to entrenched interests in West Asia. Dr. Mitch Diamantopoulos, Head of the School of Journalism explained that the proliferation of this narrative contributed to the 2011 uprisings connected to the so-called Arab Spring, playing a role similar in significance to social media platforms.

Fahmy holds dual Egyptian-Canadian citizenship and it seems Canadian authorities are doing little to assist the waylaid journalist. In June, the Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird described his approach to Fahmy’s arrest as taking the case directly to the leadership. Baird’s reluctance to speak is followed by a Canadian press corps who seem uninterested in the arrest and detention of Fahmy.

Diamantopoulos questioned the near-silence surrounding Fahmy and his colleague’s imprisonment. “The fact that the plight of these three journalists has not got more press is curious and bewildering in a way. I can’t help but think that it has something to do with another bias in journalism, which we tell our students often – we as journalists are not the story, it’s not about us. We report really aggressively on almost all aspects of social life but we rarely report on how media works.”

Diamantopoulos brings up the point that globalization has led to a metaphorical shortening of distances between two given places, leading to a state in which Westerners are more likely exposed to this kind of repression.

“Fahmy is a good reminder to us, because of his bi-cultural character, that our ethnocentrist fallacy that what other people do to intimidate, assault, jail, and kill journalists far away, is not simply a distant problem. Our journalists travel the world and that means that Canadians can just as easily be the victim. This brings home an issue that is too easy for us which are normally pushed out of our consciousnesses – we are culturally alienated from the realities of journalism in other parts of the world.”

Baird stated, to the Ottawa radio station CFRA in June, that Fahmy had been gone eleven years and he was in Egypt so he has to follow Egyptian law, not Canadian law.Despite the Canadian government’s denouncing General el-Sisi’s seizure of power as a coup d’etat, the two countries find themselves allies in the new war in Iraq. Diamantopoulos figures that this contributes greatly to Baird and the Canadian foreign service’s reluctance to speak harshly to the imprisonment of a Canadian national.

“And so we have polite criticism in hushed, diplomatic tones where we need to have a more strident fuss being made.”

Diamantopoulos insists that the incarceration of Fahmy is not a freak incident, that it is part of a larger pattern of repression within so-called democracies.

“Last year alone seventy journalists were murdered around the world in the line of work because of the kind of work they are doing. Journalists in a way are the canaries in the coalmine of democracy’s global crisis and people in the West often do not appreciate that.”

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