(May 1, 2014) – An Egyptian-Canadian journalist currently detained in a Cairo prison will be honoured as the 16th winner of the World Press Freedom Award at the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom’s (CCWPF’s) annual luncheon celebration at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on May 2.
Mohamed Fahmy, a producer with Al-Jazeera English, was arrested in Egypt on Dec. 29, 2013 along with two Al Jazeera colleagues – Australian correspondent Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed.
They joined Abdulla al-Shami, a fourth Al Jazeera journalist who has been detained for more than six months. All are being kept in horrible conditions, without adequate medical attention, in the notorious Tora Prison.
The three Al Jazeera English journalists are on trial in a Cairo court on charges of providing a platform for the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been declared a terrorist group by Egyptian authorities.
Press freedom organizations around the world insist that all the three were doing was producing high quality journalism.
The case is seen as a test of the new Egyptian regime’s tolerance for press freedom.
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.
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 hand-written message smuggled out of a jail where paper and pencil are not allowed, Fahmy stated: “The recognition not only brought joy, but it also lifted the morale of my two colleagues with whom I share a cell. I strongly believe that diplomatic pressure in addition to efforts of press freedom advocates does send a clear message to those judging us in court.”
He added that this award would go a long way toward making the case for him and his colleagues who hope to convince the judge that they are journalists “striving for the truth” and not “agents of terror”.
Ironically, the trial of Fahmy and his colleagues is scheduled to resume on May 3, the UNESCO- designated World Press Freedom Day.
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 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).
Fahmy, who said he would “proudly accept the certificate,” has requested CCWPF to donate the $2000 prize 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.
Keynote speaker at the Ottawa event will be John Ralston Saul, renowned Canadian author, defender of free expression and President of PEN International. He will speak on “Secrecy, Surveillance and Free Expression.”
May 3, celebrated as ‘World Press Freedom Day’ around the world, serves as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. It is also a day of reflection among media workers about issues of freedom expression and a time to develop initiatives to defend and promote free speech.