On December 29, three Al Jazeera English journalists were arrested in Egypt. One hundred days later, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed, held on charges including spreading false news and holding illegal meetings with the Muslim Brotherhood, remain in prison.
As part of a global demand for the immediate release the Al Jazeera staffers, the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, the newly formed Columbia Global Freedom of Expression and Information Project, and Columbia Global Centers hosted a symposium on Monday night called “100 Days: Egypt vs. Press Freedom” at the Columbia Journalism School to discuss implications the journalists’ detention has on free speech in Egypt and around the world.
Moderator Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center, began the discussion by remarking that while this is not the most extreme case of repression in Egypt’s history, nor the only recent effort to silence the press in Egypt, it has been a “profoundly consequential case” for many people in the US and around the world.
“What has struck me most about this case is the explicit criminalizing of normal news practice,” he said.
Shapiro turned the floor over to panelist Marcy McGinnis, senior vice president for newsgathering at Al Jazeera America. McGinnis echoed Shapiro’s sentiment, denouncing the jailing of her colleagues as “outrageous.”
“The authorities did not like our journalists talking to the other side,” McGinnis said. “It’s a sad state of affairs when you see your colleagues in a cage in white jumpsuits, like animals, like criminals…It brings out an anger that is unrelenting.”
She added that while Al Jazeera English has been the center of this case, journalists around the world are being targeted, arrested, and killed “just for doing their jobs.” Among them is Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent Abdullah Elshamy, who has been detained in Egypt for 236 days, and on a hunger strike for 77.
Also on the panel was Yehia Ghanem, an Egyptian journalist and current international journalist in residence at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Last year, Ghanem was sentenced to two years of hard labor for connections with international NGOs following his efforts to train young journalists. He is now living in exile in New York.
“My message for my fellow journalists in Egypt, including Al Jazeera journalists, is to hang onto each other, or else, we will hang next to each other,” he said, adding that he holds out hope that circumstances will change in Egypt.