Update (28 August 2012):
Thanks to a sustained campaign from many quarters charges have been dropped against all three individuals. Many thanks to everyone who signed the open letter (nearly 10,000 signatures) and who campaigned in other ways – and congratulations to the three researchers!
Statement regarding arrest and harassment of Mr Austin Mackell, Ms Ailya Alwi and others in Egypt
On 11 February 2012 independent journalist Mr Austin Mackell (Australian), and his long time translator Ms Ailya Alwi (Egyptian), were arrested as they arrived in Mahalla al-Kubra, Egypt. Mr Mackell and Ms Alwi were there to interview respected labour organiser Mr Kamal Elfayoumi, in relation to an article for the May 2012 issue of the journal Interface.
Interface is an academic journal with an international editorial board. It publishes academic and theoretical work related to social movements and political protest. The upcoming May 2012 includes a section on the theme of the Arab Spring.
Mr Mackell and Ms Aliwa were travelling with postgraduate student Derek Ludovici (American), who was also arrested. All three have effectively been charged with inciting people to vandalise public property and governmental buildings. Specifically it is alleged they promised children money if they threw rocks at the Qism El-Tani police station in Mahalla. They are advised that if convicted they face imprisonment for 5-7 years. The charges against the three have clearly been fabricated. Mr Elfayoumi and their taxi driver, Zakaria Ahmad, were also initially arrested but later released.
Similar to other recent attacks on foreign press, the police and Egyptian state have sought to discredit local activists by associating them with fictitious foreign agendas (e.g. that such journalists and writers are foreign spies or agitators) in order to limit the access of local people to the international media.
Interface calls for the dropping of the charges against the three parties. Interface also calls on the Australian foreign minister and American secretary of state to publicly condemn the persecution and seek the immediate quashing of the charges.
Interface wishes to highlight the importance of journalists and researchers being allowed to investigate and report on events in Egypt. A free press, and fearless academic work, is crucial to democracy. It is important foreigners and Egyptians alike are allowed freedom of association and freedom of expression.
International and Egyptian writers, journalists and academics have been essential in bringing to light some of the worst abuses of the former Egyptian dictatorship under Hosni Mubarak as well as abuses occurring under the current Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The charges represent another escalation of the harassment and intimidation of international journalists in Egypt, and Interface condemns these actions.
Elizabeth Humphrys (Sydney), Interface Oceania and Southeast Asia editor
(+61) 0402 424 973; email lizhumphrys AT me.com
Austin Mackell (Cairo), independent journalist
(+20) (0) 11 414 39 783; email austingmackell AT gmail.com
Background to the arrest: full details available in this article by Austin Mackell on ABC’s The Drum.
Please sign the change.org open letter calling on the Australian government to take action, available here.