Al Jazeera launches global push to free staff

Journalists gather for global day of action calling on Egypt to release staff arrested for practising journalism.

    Al Jazeera staff have joined journalist protests around the world as part of a Global Day of Action calling for the release of four Al Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt for months without trial.

    Journalists in 40 locations staged vigils in solidarity with the jailed Al Jazeera staff, highlighting the need for press freedom. All Al Jazeera staff gathered in the newsroom for a silent protest on Thursday.

    Peter Greste, one of the jailed journalists, was elected chairman of the Foreign Correspondents Association of East Africa in absentia.

    The day of action began in Sydney, where a mixture of journalists, human rights activists and supporters of media freedom came together to call for the release of, Greste, an Australian citizen, and three colleagues.

    In the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karman, the face of the Yemeni uprising of 2011, joined journalists and rights activisits to demand their release.

    Martyr's Square in Lebanese capital, Beirut, saw a big turnout of journalists and friends of the media, holding banners and posters saying 'Journalism is not a crime'.

    Public events are also taking place in Manila, Islamabad, Amman, Nairobi, Ankara, Berlin, London, Rio, Montreal, Washington DC, Kabul and San Francisco.

    "We truly appreciate the solidarity from everybody right around the world," said Mostefa Souag, the acting general director of Al Jazeera Media Network.

    He said the day of vigils and rallies "is about objective reporting and to ensure journalists cannot be gagged or silenced".

    "Al Jazeera hopes through the attention of the world’s media and partners, pressure can be brought to bear on the Egyptian authorities to hasten the release of Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Abdullah Al Shamy by reminding them in a united voice, that journalism is not a crime," the media network said on Wednesday.

    Al Jazeera English correspondent Greste, an award-winning journalist, Egypt bureau chief, Mohamed Fahmy, and producer Baher Mohamed were arrested on December 29, taken from a hotel, and accused of spreading false news and belonging to a "terrorist group."

    They appeared in court for the first time on February 21 but their trial was then adjourned to March 5.

    Abdullah Al Shamy from Al Jazeera's Arabic channel has been detained for more than six months ago without charge and has been on a hunger strike since January 23.

    Al Jazeera rejects the charges against its staff.

    Global concern

    Freedom of speech in Egypt has been the focus of mounting global concern since the government adopted a hardline approach towards journalists. The country has been ranked the third deadliest destination for journalists in 2013 by the Committee to Protect Journalists. 

    Souag had earlier said: "The global day of action is about the freedom of the press, it is about objective reporting and to ensure journalists cannot be gagged or silenced."

    "Journalism is not a crime."

    An online #FreeAJstaff campaign has had a quarter of a billion hits on twitter alone since the February 1.

    Institutions including the White House, the European Union and the United Nations have called for the release of the journalists, and for press freedoms to be upheld.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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