Friday, 24 February 2012

Journalists arrested in Egypt

Australian freelance journalist Austin Mackell, Egyptian translator Aliya Alwi and US masters student Derek Ludovici were arrested on February 11th in the town of Mahalla al-Kubra where they had gone to interview trade union activist Kamal el-Fayoumi.

On arriving, they were attacked by a small mob, then taken to a police station and interrogated. Following this they have been charged with the bizarre assertion that they promised children money for throwing rocks at a police station: if convicted they face from 5 - 7 years in jail. On release the police publicised their names and addresses, putting them at physical risk. They have been prevented from leaving Egypt.

Mackell has written a number of articles in support of the Egyptian uprising and critical of the military junta. El-Fayoumi is a long-time labour activist from a town whose 2008 general strike inspired much of the rest of the country. It seems likely that the real purpose of these implausible charges is to intimidate foreign journalists reporting on the democratic protest movement, and in particular on the labour struggles which have been the backbone of opposition first to Mubarak and now to the military.

There is a petition urging the Australian authorities to take action here, and an account of the events by Mackell here.