A short event story on a Beirut protest in support of Al-Jazeera journalists incarcerated in Egypt, published in Al-Akhbar English in February 2014.
Demonstrators gathered in downtown Beirut on Thursday to protest the incarceration of several Al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt, as part of a “global day of action” for journalists to stand in solidarity and call for their release.
Around 50 people gathered on Martyrs’ Square in the early afternoon despite the overcast weather, holding blue banners reading “journalism is not a crime.” Some protesters had also duct-taped their mouths shut to denounce attacks on press freedom.
Al-Jazeera had called for vigils outside Egyptian embassies across the world on Thursday, including in Qatar, where the channel is based, and in Sudan. Protests have already taken place in several countries since January.
Three journalists from Al-Jazeera’s English-language television service – Peter Greste, an Australian; Mohammed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian national; and Baher Mohammed, an Egyptian – were detained in Cairo on December 29.
Al-Jazeera Arabic’s Abdullah el-Shamy has also been detained without charges since August and has been on hunger strike for more than a month, one of the protest organizers said, calling Shamy’s situation “very worrying.”
“They’re our colleagues,” Al-Jazeera journalist Nisreen el-Shamayleh told Al-Akhbar. “We might not all know them personally, but we are extremely concerned about them.”
Shamayleh said Al-Jazeera was working hard to ensure the release of its employees, adding that the news network was “pursuing all avenues.”
“Not one day have they stopped making calls,” she said.
“We’re going to stay hopeful, and hope peaceful pressure on the Egyptian government will work,” Shamayleh added. “We’re hoping that they will release them and give them a fair trial.”
Other protesters said they joined the demonstration to support freedom of speech.
“I’ve come here in solidarity,” Reuters correspondent Oliver Holmes toldAl-Akhbar. ”Any time a journalist is detained, I feel other journalists should come out to support one another.”
Ibrahim Baydoun, a sheikh from the Committee of Islamic Studies – Hiyeh al-Ulama al-Muslimin – said the issue went beyond journalists’ rights in Egypt, where a military crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood has led to attacks against news outlets suspected of supporting the group and deposed President Mohammed Mursi.
“This is violating human rights,” he said. “All of the rights are being taken, all the freedoms stepped on, not only for journalists.”
For Johaina Khaldieh, a journalist for Lebanese news website al-Modon, concerns about press freedom extended to the entire region.
“I am here to support freedom of speech in any country,” Khaldieh said. She brought up cases in Lebanon where several journalists were sued, including Al-Akhbar’s own Mohammed Nazzal, as examples of repression of freedom of speech in the region.
“Everyone who believed in the Arab Spring thought that it would affect freedom of speech (positively), but it’s gone in the opposite direction, and I think that’s really sad,” she said.