Baher Mohamed, one of three Al Jazeera journalists recently freed from an Egyptian prison, was brought to tears when reunited with his colleagues in Doha in an emotional reception celebrating his release.
Speaking to Al Jazeera on Thursday, the journalist – who was jailed for 437 days – said he felt proud to have been able to “stand for a cause”.
“The chance to stand for something bigger comes once in a lifetime. I’m proud of this experience, and if time went back again, I would choose the same path.”
Mohamed joined Al Jazeera in 2013 having worked for various organisations since graduating from Cairo Univeristy in 2005.
“I want to keep harnessing this unity to continue to protect journalism,” he said, in reference to an international campaign callling for his and his colleagues’ release.
“I want the immediate release of every single journalist behind bars in the world.”
Al Jazeera’s Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste along with seven colleagues outside the country, were accused of spreading “false news” during their coverage of demonstrations protesting a military overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed were given sentences of seven to 10 years. Greste was deported from Egypt in February under a presidential decree. Mohamed and Fahmy, both of Egyptian origin, were freed together following a presidential pardon in September.
“When I found out I was free, I couldn’t believe it…Within 30 minutes, they [prison staff] asked us to pack our stuff and then they took us and threw us in the street and left. We started dancing and hugging in the street. We were still in our blue uniforms,” said Mohamed.
“When my wife came, she jumped out of the car and into my arms. I hugged her for several minutes. It was the best moment in my life,” said Mohamed.
The international campaign that travelled widely on social media under the hashtag #freeajstaff saw news companies and human rights organisations join the call for press freedom.
“Press freedom is the core of democracy, without press freedom there won’t be democracy,” said Mohamed.
“We need protection, we are endangered. The problem is that before, 10 or so years ago, journalists used to get injured or killed by mistake in conflict and war zones, but now we are being the target.
“It’s really serious – we need protection.”
Speaking on the current high profile case of Jason Rezaian, an American Washington Post reporter detained in Iran under charges of espionage, Mohamed offered his full support.
“I promise him I will do my best to reunite him with his family because I know he is a good fighter – he is a journalist and he knows what he’s doing.
“I will keep doing my best to help immediately release him, him and every single journalist behind bars.”