An Egyptian-Canadian journalist who is behind bars in Cairo is this year’s recipient of a national award given to promote the freedom of journalists to fearlessly do their jobs.
Mohamed Fahmy, the English language bureau chief for the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television network, has been held, along with two of his colleagues, since Dec. 29 of last year, on charges of conspiring with the banned Muslim Brotherhood to tarnish Egypt’s international reputation.
The case has prompted an international cry for press freedom with U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders calling for the release of Mr. Fahmy as well as Australian reporter Peter Greste, Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed and Abdulla al-Shami, a fourth Al Jazeera journalist who has been detained for more than six months.
John Baird, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, raised the matter of Mr. Fahmy’s imprisonment with Egyptian officials when he travelled to that country over the Easter weekend.
Mr. Fahmy, who moved to Canada with his family 20 years ago, previously worked for CNN and the BBC. He is also the author of Egyptian Freedom Story, an account of the 2011 Arab Spring.
His parents have travelled from their home in Montreal to be present during his trials which the family says have turned into a farce.
Mr. Fahmy’s two brothers visited him in prison last Sunday, his 40th birthday, and told him he had won the Press Freedom Award. In a handwritten message smuggled out of a jail where paper and pencil are not allowed, Mr. Fahmy said the prize had lifted his spirits and urged continuing diplomatic pressure.
“To imprison a journalist and attempt to silence his cause is not only an insult to the essence of Egypt’s constitution but also an offence to the global journalism community,” he wrote “The Press Freedom Award comes at a time when all I think about is how to stress the plight of many local journalists detained in Egypt who have not receive a fraction of the attention I’m getting,” wrote Mr. Fahmy.
At his most recent hearing, the prosecution presented footage taken from the journalists’ computers that included interviews with supporters and opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood, documentaries on charities, reports on farming, reports on football, a child labour report, coverage of mass arrests at Al-Azhar University, and a report on poverty.
The Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom Award includes a cash prize of $2,000 and a certificate of honour from the CCWPF and the Canadian Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Mr. Fahmy has requested that the $2000 prize be given to the family of the late Mayada Ashraf, a young Egyptian journalist who lost her life while covering the weekly clashes between security forces and the opposition protesters last month.