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Irony-laden World Press Freedom Day for Al Jazeera detainees

Irony-laden World Press Freedom Day for Al Jazeera detainees in Cairo

• Decision due on May 3rd whether to free Al Jazeera Arabic reporter or extend his nearly 9-month detention without charge

• Al Jazeera English trio due in court for seventh hearing

• Detainees publish letters of gratitude for the support they've received

• Mohammed Fahmy honoured with Press Freedom Award at the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom

Amongst all the important activity on May 3rd, World Press Freedom Day, there will be none more ironic than the legal proceedings against Al Jazeera's journalists in Cairo.

The Egyptian prosecutor will decide on this day whether to free Al Jazeera Arabic's Abdullah Elshamy, or further extend his detention without charge. Elshamy has been held without charge since August 14th last year, and is on hunger strike in protest amidst growing concerns for his health.

On the same day will be the next court hearing for Al Jazeera English's Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohammed.

To mark World Press Freedom Day, the trio have sent open letters expressing their gratitude for the continuous support by all calling for their release.

Peter Greste in his letter says the world should acknowledge the need to defend media freedoms:

"We must also acknowledge that on this day and for the past few months, press freedom is being vigorously defended, and in a way that would have been unimaginable before our arrest. We have seen countless protests around the world, an extraordinary online campaign, petitions, news conferences and appeals that together have been unprecedented in the struggle to protect press freedom. We are of course deeply moved and strengthened by the outpouring of support, but we also understand that this isn't just about the three of us. Our case has become emblematic of the freedom of the press world wide. If by arresting us, the government sought to send a message to journalists both foreign and local working here, then the campaign for our release has sent an unequivocal response. And it is one that is being heard everywhere".

Mohammed Fahmy who on World Press Freedom Day will be honoured as the 16th winner of the Press Freedom Award by the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom (CCWPF), welcomed the award but also said they will not be silenced:

"When the journalist becomes the story rather than reporting it, you ask yourself why this happened and who is responsible for detaining you in the terrorism wing of Egypt’s most notorious prison. To silence me and my colleagues on the pretext that we are a threat to national security and members of a terrorist organization is a sheer insult to the intelligence of Egyptian people and the democracy promoted in the newly ratified constitution".

Mohammed Fahmy also admired the courage of Abdullah Elshamy who is on day 104 of his hunger strike:

"Among those freedom fighters is Abdullah ElShamy, the Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent who has been on hunger strike for weeks and lost more than 30 kilograms. His detention for almost 9 months without even standing trial is a breach of human rights. I see no better occasion than today to remind the world about the plight of these men and that there are dozens of respected local Egyptian reporters and citizen journalists who are suffering in prison awaiting trial. They are simply prisoners of conscience!"

Al Jazeera's Director General, Dr. Mostefa Souag will be delivering a speech at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris defending the rights of journalists worldwide, and saying Egypt should release all detained journalists.

Calls for the release of the Al Jazeera staff have been made from the White House, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the European Union. Similarly public calls of support for the #FreeAJStaff campaign have been made from prominent media personalities with over 60,000 people supporting the #FreeAJStaff campaign which has had over 1.2 billion impressions on twitter. Various media freedom and human rights groups have also issued statements ranging from the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Press Institute, Amnesty International and Foreign Correspondents’ Association of East Africa.

Al Jazeera has produced a video marking World Press Freedom Day which is supported by twenty NGOs including UNESCO, INSI, CPJ HRW and the IPI. It can be viewed here


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