Free Al Jazeera Three

By David

It is unusual for Swimwatch to dwell on events at our club, West Auckland Aquatics. A swimming blog such as this has normally considered wider issues. However recent events have conspired to link the parochial interests of the West Auckland Aquatics Club with one of the world’s most important news items.

A few weeks ago a new family joined our club. The father introduced himself as Wayne Hay. I thought I’d heard that name before but wasn’t sure in what context. When I got home, I Googled “Wayne Hay” and quickly realised why the club’s newest member had a memorable name. This is what Google tells me the New Zealand Herald had to say.

A New Zealand journalist has been freed from an Egyptian jail after being detained for five days without charge. Al Jazeera correspondent Wayne Hay, formerly a TVNZ reporter and presenter, was arrested with three colleagues while covering events in Cairo on Tuesday.  The network called for Egyptian authorities to release its staff unconditionally along with their belongings and equipment. It said there had been a campaign against Al Jazeera, as the channel’s offices were raided last month. A post on the Al Jazeera website said Mr Hay and his colleagues were deported to London, Radio New Zealand reported. They were forced to leave their equipment behind.

An Al Jazeera spokesperson told RNZ they were not given a reason for their detention. Al Jazeera thanked all those who helped the group, especially the New Zealand, South African and Irish embassies in the Egyptian capital.

There is an obvious link with the most recent events in Cairo where another three Al Jazeera journalists were arrested 180 days ago and have now been sentenced by an Egyptian court to seven years in jail for doing their job. Here is a summarised version of how Al Jazeera reported recent events.

An Egypt court has sentenced two Al Jazeera journalists to seven years in jail and one to 10 years, triggering international outrage and condemnation of what many described as an “unjust verdict”. The guilty verdicts were announced by a judge on Monday against Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed. Greste and Fahmy were sentenced to seven years in prison, while Baher Mohamed was sentenced to an additional three years for possession of ammunition. Mohamed was in possession of a spent bullet casing he had found on the ground during a protest.

Greste, Fahmy, and Mohamed were arrested in December in Cairo as they covered the aftermath of the army’s removal of Mohamed Morsi from the presidency in July. The prosecution said Greste, Al Jazeera’s East Africa correspondent, and his Egypt bureau colleagues aided the Brotherhood and produced false news reports of the situation in Egypt.

The defence maintained that the journalists were wrongly arrested and that the prosecution had failed to prove any of the charges. Al Jazeera has strenuously rejected the charges against its journalists and maintains their innocence. Al Anstey, Al Jazeera English managing director, said the verdicts defied “logic, sense, and any semblance of justice”.

“Today three colleagues and friends were sentenced, and will continue to be kept behind bars for doing a brilliant job of being great journalists. “There is only one sensible outcome now – for the verdict to be overturned, and justice to be recognised by Egypt.”

The verdict provoked international outcry and raised fears of growing media restrictions in Egypt. Australia expressed shock and US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of “a chilling and draconian sentence”, while the White House urged President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to pardon the journalists involved.

“We call on the Egyptian government to pardon these individuals or commute their sentences so that they can be released immediately and (to) grant clemency for all politically motivated sentences,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. UN rights chief Navi Pillay said journalism “is not a crime” and urged Egypt to “promptly release” those jailed for doing their job. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said: “We are deeply dismayed that a sentence has been imposed and appalled at the severity of it.” Several countries announced plans to summon Egyptian ambassadors to protest what many called an unjust verdict.

The reality of this outrageous violation of all that is good and decent is so much greater when you know someone who was within a whisker of the same fate just because he was doing his job. The bad things, bad people can do to good people is just stunning. Any claim the authorities in Cairo make to democracy and the rule of law means nothing while the Al Jazeera three remain behind Egyptian bars.

Of course the condemnation of Swimwatch is not going to mean anything to the recently elected President of Egypt, Abdel Al-Sisi. But in a case like this every voice matters. Freedom of speech, the right of journalists to report the news, to do their job is important to us all. Even when we do not like or agree with what is being said, it is essential we defend the right to say it.

After all, it looks as though John Kerry and Barack Obama are not making much progress toward civilizing those currently in power in Cairo. American words sound hollow however when their actions support the thugs running Egypt. How on God’s good earth the United States can provide this gang of Egyptian low-life with $600million of military aid is beyond belief.

And so, Swimming New Zealand and its Wellington Region, when you go to a local club and insist it takes down its link to Swimwatch or when you spend time and money debating how to have this blog closed and its journalist sued, think about Egypt and remember where the logical extension of your bigotry can lead. After all, I’m told an employee of SNZ was fired, in part, because he spoke to one of the authors of Swimwatch. You are not in good company. That move would have been well understood and endorsed by Abdel Al-Sisi.

Free the Al Jazeera three.

  • Mister Clive

    You’re right: “?.. the condemnation of Swimwatch is not going to mean anything to the recently elected President of Egypt, Abdel Al-Sisi,” but it’s absolutely essential that you say it.

  • Democracy rules?

    I agree “what is America thinking giving these goons military aid on the day they locked up these journalists without reason” It beggars belief, though I suspect sport NZ /SNZ boffins are busy trying to work out how they could adopt the Abdel Al-Sisi (aka Ali Baba) approach to dissident journalists who continue to highlight their many short comings. Keep up the good work.

  • David

    I see, on their new website, the Raumati Club have succumbed to the pressure of those who would limit the expression of free speech and have withdrawn the link to Swimwatch. That is sad, because it has provided a small victory to those who would limit our freedoms. “Give me liberty or give me death” but not at the Raumati Swimming Club it seems. Sport should teach so much more than the club has in this instance.