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The true meaning of freedom of expression in Egypt: An open letter from Abdullah Al Fakhrani

Below is the translation of an open letter written by Abdullah Al Fakhrani, an Egyptian journalist and the founder of Rassd News Network who is currently imprisoned in Egypt.

My friend, you ask me to talk about freedom of expression in Egypt and what it means to me?

Before I begin to even talk to you about freedom of expression in Egypt – more specifically post-coup – allow me to draw your attention to a certain point: there is a difference between freedom of expression and the freedom to transmit news. For true freedom of expression to exist it must be preceded largely by knowledge of facts and occurrences about the world around us on which we later build later opinions that we can then express in various ways. On that basis, the freedom to transmit news precedes freedom of expression; it is a necessary condition for freedom of expression to even exist in the first place.

In Egypt, you have a country that neither respects journalists nor allows them to portray the reality on the ground to the nation’s citizens. In Egypt, the search for freedom of expression is akin to being a filmmaker who owns no camera or film: impossible to enact.

For a year and a half I have been left in an underground cell charged with the crime of “journalism”; charged with the dissemination of news – and, believe it or not, for admitting to belong to a newspaper! And yet, despite this, as a journalist in my country, I know I am lucky. Others have been killed for carrying out their work with no one asking about them or bringing their killers to justice. No one has held their killers accountable for the charges of murder, of restricting freedom, of targeting journalists – the world has forgotten or neglected them, my friend.

For the past year and a half I have been imprisoned with many journalists, Egyptian and foreign alike, from various press organisations. I was with Abdullah Al-Shamy, the Al Jazeera journalist who was arrested whilst doing his work the day of the dispersal of Rabaa – the same day that Habiba Mohamed, a member of Abdullah’s press team, was killed doing his job. Many people are unaware that the actual numbers of detainees from Rassd News has exceeded 40 journalists, and that the organisation withholds their names for fear of endangering them. For in Egypt it is better for a journalist upon being arrested covering such events to be charged as a protester than to be charged as a journalist.

How naïve I was! I thought the world would stand against the coup government in its targeting of journalists and their restrictions. What happened instead was a mixture of collaboration and neglect, with some countries even handing their journalists over to the Egyptian authorities – such as what happened with the director of Ahrar25, Musad Albarbary, who was abducted by Lebanese authorities and handed over to their Egyptian counterparts to be charged for managing a news channel. Such incidents will only repeat themselves with others – for haven’t I told you; the world does not care. Perhaps it’s because the detained journalist is Egyptian?

Forgive me, my friend, for prolonging my introduction and not answering your question. Let me tell you what freedom of expression means to me after a year and a half of detention.

Freedom of expression, now, is for me to be free to write words on the walls of my cell; to shout out in my loudest voice how I feel to the fellow prisoner behind my cell door; to have the freedom to talk to the military judge overseeing my case; the freedom to choose between silence or speech that might land me in isolation. It’s the ability to hold a discussion with 20 other journalists about what occurred when we were in the court’s cage – the soundproof glass box that has been our punishment for daring to work as journalists.

Freedom of expression, my dear friend, is to talk about the killers of Charlie Hebdo and to ignore the killings of Arab journalists; condemning the killers of French journalists while being blind to the fate of others.

I hear the words “freedom of expression” and the name Ahmad Assim comes to mind. As does Ahmad Abdeljawad; Habiba Ahmad; Mosab Alshamy; Mayada Ashraf – they all come to mind, the names of journalists killed for their work. The Mariott Cell case also comes to mind. As does the Rabaa Operations Room case; the Rassd leaks; Mikamleen and the more than 100 Egyptian journalists left to rot in a prison cell because of the charge of journalism. These are the limits of freedom of expression in my country now.

Names of detained journalists in Egypt to date:

  1. Magdy Ahmad Hussein, Alshab aljadeed
  2. Mohsin Rady, Culture and Media in the People’s Assembly
  3. Ibrahim Aldawry, Palestinian Centre for Studies
  4. Ahmad Ez Aldeen, Alshaab Newspaper
  5. Hany Salah Aldeen, Alyoum Alsabeh
  6. Hassan Alqabany, Alkarama
  7. Musad Albarbary, Ahrar 25
  8. Amr Alkhafeef, Radio broadcasting in Maspero
  9. Imad Abu Zeid, Alahram
  10. Ahmad Almenshawy, Gazette
  11. Said Abou Hajj, photojournalist, Sinai media
  12. Ahmad Sabeh, Aqsa channel
  13. Samihy Mustafa, Rassd Network
  14. Ali Abdulal, Islamiyon
  15. Abdullah Alfakharany, Rassd Network
  16. Ayman Saqr, Mesryoon
  17. Mohamed Ali Hassan, Nahar Newspaper and Egypt Now Channel
  18. Mohamad Salah, Alshab aljadeed
  19. Ibrahim Sulaiman, Fifth Channel
  20. Omar Abdelmaqsood, Masr Alarabiya
  21. Khaled Hamza, Ikhwanweb
  22. Mahmoud Abu Zeid (Shawkan), freelance photojournalist, Demotix
  23. Ramy Gan, freelance
  24. Mohamed Alyamany, Freedom and Justice paper
  25. Abdelrahman Shahin, Freedom and Justice paper
  26. Husam Isa, Freedom and Justice paper
  27. Muhammad Madany, Masr25
  28. Baher Mohamed, Aljazeera
  29. Mohamed Fahmy, Aljazeera
  30. Nora Rashed, Gomhoriya
  31. Khaled Hamdy, Masr25
  32. Hassan Khudry, Masr25
  33. Khaled Abdelaziz, Masr25
  34. Jamal Alalam, Masr25
  35. Osama Ezz Aldeen, photojournalist, Masr25
  36. Mohamed Hegazy, Masr25
  37. Mohamed Aladly, Amgad
  38. Hassan Ibrahim Albana, freelance photojournalist
  39. Mahmoud Gad, freelance photojournalist
  40. Ahmad Abu Zeid Altantawy, Freedom and Justice paper
  41. Abdelrahman Said Mustafa, Nabd Alikhbariya
  42. Abdelrahman Morsi, Aqsa channel
  43. Mahmoud Abdelnaby Awad, Rassd Network
  44. Ibrahim Abdelnaby Awad, Rassd Network
  45. Khaled Abdelraouf Sahloub, freelance
  46. Ahmad Gamal Zeyada, Yaqeen
  47. Said Mousa, Amgad
  48. Omran Ashour Ahmad, freelance
  49. Ahmad Khamees, freelance
  50. Mohamed Reda, freelance
  51. Ahmad Ali Alnagar, freelance
  52. Mohamed Sulaiman, freelance
  53. Khaled Junaidy, freelance
  54. Salem Rehab, freelance
  55. Imad Mohamed, freelance
  56. Kareem Mustafa Alsaid, Shabab Channel
  57. Omar Ahmad, freelance
  58. Mohamed Ezzat, IkhwanOnline
  59. Abdullah Shousha, Amgad
  60. Bakry Abdelal, Alraya
  61. Ashraf Mahmoud Khalifa, Freedom and Justice paper
  62. Mohamed Hamdy, freelance
  63. Ahmad Abdelhameed awad, freelance
  64. Abdelrahman Labib Handiya, freelance
  65. Ahmad Lashin, Masr25
  66. Ahmad Fouad Alsaid, Kormoz
  67. Kareem Shalby, Almasdr
  68. Suhaib Mohamed, freelance
  69. Bebshawy Armeia, Altareq Channel
  70. Wael Alhudeiny, freelance
  71. Sameh Albalah, Alsharq al-Awsat
  72. Mohamed Mamoon, Ahrar25
  73. Ibrahim Talha, freelance
  74. Mahmoud Gamal Othman, freelance
  75. Mohiy Qasam Abdeljawad, freelance
  76. Mohamad Mustafa Abdelnaser, freelance
  77. Ahmad Moharam Abdelsalam, freelance
  78. Abdelrahman Mohamed Ahmad, freelance
  79. Bilal Kamal Abdelal, freelance
  80. Mohamed Abdelnaby Abda, freelance
  81. Mohamad Ragab, freelance
  82. Mustafa Ban, freelance
  83. Mustafa Madih Helmy, freelance
  84. Sameh Mohamed Bakry, freelance
  85. Ahmad Moharam, freelance
  86. Abdullah Gamal Meftah, freelance
  87. Mohamed Mamon Abou Shousha, freelance
  88. Ammar Samir Abdelghany, freelance
  89. Ahmad Khamees Khedr, freelance
  90. Bilal Abdullah Ahmad, freelance
  91. Abdelrahman Hassan Abdelhaffez, freelance
  92. Ahmad Khamees Abdelqawy, freelance
  93. Kareem Abdullah, freelance
  94. Huthaifa Mohamed, freelance
  95. Anas Mohamed Alqady, freelance
  96. Mohamed Ahmad Shehata, freelance
  97. Osama Hisham Mohamed, freelance
  98. Mohammed Husam Alkafrawy, freelance
  99. Omar Mohammed Alsawy, freelance
  100. Ahmad Ali Alnagar, freelance
  101. Adel Alhaddad, freelance photojournalist

 

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