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Global journos demand release of Al Jazeera English journalists

MUMBAI: Commemorating the 100th day imprisonment of Al Jazeera English journalists, several journalists from across the globe gathered in different places to show solidarity and demand release of the three journalists from the prison in Egypt.

The Qatar-based network held a press conference at the Paley Centre in New York to call for support for the release of Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste, Baher Mohamed who work for Al-Jazeera English, and Abdulla al-Shami, a correspondent for Al-Jazeera Arabic.

The journalists were arrested and taken into custody amid the turmoil in Egypt. The country accuses the journalists of supporting the deposed Muslim Brotherhood, which is deemed to be a terrorist group by the militarist government. The regime came into power after the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi.

Al Jazeera English executive producer for newsgathering in America Owen Watson made strong calls for the immediate release of Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt. Colleagues from the Associated Press, ABC News and The New York Times, Committee to Protect Journalists and sister channel Al Jazeera Arabic joined him in solidarity.

A massive vigil was held outside the BBC headquarters, Paley Center and the Columbia School of Journalism. The press conference concluded with an announcement of the International Documentary Association’s letter of support.

ABC News foreign editor Jon Williams said, “This is not Al Jazeera’s fight. This is our fight as journalists.”

Al Jazeera Arabic’s Washington DC bureau chief Abderrahim Foukara also made note of fellow colleague Abdullah al-Shami who has been detained since August last year with no charges pressed. Al-Shami is currently on this 78th day hunger strike.

At the Columbia School of Journalism, a Freedom of Press Symposium was held in partnership with the Dart Center, the Columbia Global Freedom of Expression and Information Project and the Columbia Global Centers Middle East. The event highlighted the imprisonment of the journalists while reflecting on the changing geo-political landscape across the Middle East as well as press freedom.

In London, Al Jazeera English head of newsgathering Heather Allan participated in the BBC’s Safety of Journalists Symposium, hosted by BBC Global News and CFOM, the Centre for Freedom of the Media at the University of Sheffield, in cooperation with the BBC College of Journalism.

The participants endorsed a statement which called for increased safety and protection of journalists. It also pressed for the release of the Al Jazeera staff.

It read, “Today also marks 100 days since the arrest and detention in Egypt of three respected and highly professional Al Jazeera journalists, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed. No credible evidence has been produced to justify their imprisonment and prosecution. A number of other journalists have also been held in Egypt for extended periods without adequate access to justice. We call for the release of all those individuals and the freeing of more than 200 other journalists around the world who are now held behind bars only because they were doing their jobs. Journalism is not a crime; it is essential for a free and open society.”

Journalists across BBC also took part in the social media #FreeAJStaff campaign, posting photos and messages of support for all four arrested Al Jazeera staff.

Al Jazeera English managing director Al Anstey said, “We are very grateful for the immense support of our staff to mark 100 days in prison, and from right around the world since they were detained in Egypt. The response has been amazing from the one minute silence outside New Broadcasting House organised by the BBC, to the press conference in New York. The campaign is focussed on the release of our four staff, but is fundamentally a stand in the defence of journalism itself, and a call for people everywhere to have a right to be heard and the right to know what is really going on in their world.”

Over 40,000 people have been actively involved in the campaign and events have been held in over 30 countries and in every continent with over 900 million impressions of the FreeAJStaff hashtag.