Aussie journalist still trapped in Egypt
Posted on June 25, 2012
It has been more than four months since Australian journalist Austin Mackell and his Egyptian translator Aliya Alwi were arrested while reporting from the Egyptian industrial city of Mahalla. They have since faced the prospect of a seven year jail term due to entirely bogus charges based on inconsistent and unreliable testimonies of partisan witnesses.
It has also been more than four months since I wrote a letter to the then Foreign Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd MP. Needless to say, I received no response, primarily, I assume, due to Mr. Rudd’s own failed Machiavellian power grab. Well, Australia now has a new foreign minister, Bob Carr. He can be found at the following addresses:
R.G. Casey Building
John McEwen Crescent
Barton ACT 0221 Australia
PO Box 6100
Canberra ACT 2600
- Telephone: (02) 6277 7500
- Fax: (02) 6273 4112
Level 10, Bligh House,
4-6 Bligh Street
Sydney, NSW, 2000
GPO Box 36
Sydney, NSW, 2001
- Telephone: (02) 9228 5655
- Fax: (02) 9228 3655
- Contact email.
Here is a letter, written by Austin, in its entirety explaining the situation. Please get in contact with Mr Carr, to help us pressure the minister into action. Thank you.
First of all, many thanks to everyone for their ongoing interest and support. Please forgive me if I have been difficult to contact, or not communicative enough over the last few months. In part this has been because there has been very little news to report in terms of the case progressing.
The latest news is that our case file has made its way to the Cairo office of the General Prosecutor, where a final decision will be made regarding whether to set a trial date or archive the case.
If usual practice is followed, it is my understanding that this will be based on the recommendation from the Mahalla office, where we were originally charged, and where our lawyer feels we did well, showing blatant inconsistencies in the testimonies against us, which were primarily hearsay in any case.
This transfer to the Cairo office occurred just before the presidential elections (and a series of contemporaneous major legal battles) here in Egypt, and has presumably seen little attention in the interim as the judicial system has been extremely busy.
It is very possible that in the coming weeks this will change, making now a vital time for the Australian government to make clear it will not accept mistreatment of its citizens.
However, I am not a lawyer, and anyone wishing to make comment on these matters should seek professional clarification beforehand. My lawyer can be contacted in this regard, but he is not an English speaker so a translator will be necessary (I can also help with this).
In any case, the advice he has given me was not to focus my statements on the specifics of the legal proceedings, as much of these have occurred without me being present (during the hearing in Mahalla, for example, I was only present to hear the charges and give my testimony, kept waiting in another room).
What I can say with certainty is that we are innocent. We had been in Mahalla for less than half an hour, enough time for tea, sandwiches and nothing else, before driving to our meeting point with local union organiser Mr Kamal el-Fayoumi in the city’s main square, where we were immediately mobbed, then arrested. The testimonies of our driver, Mr Zakaria Ahmed and Mr Elfayoumi can confirm this, as could, I imagine the GPS tracking data from our translator’s Iphone, which is currently being held as evidence (along with all my reporting equipment, including both the stuff I had with me during our arrest, and hard disks and other items seized from my apartment).
This equipment, we must assume is being thoroughly searched, and at least one of my sensitive sources (a dissident police officer who spoke out about corruption and brutality) has been harassed by the authorities about his connection to me.
As I have stated repeatedly, the embassy staff have been great, making every effort possible to help. In particular Simon Harrison, the consul has been fantastic, from bringing me and my American cellmate toilet paper and blankets, to making time outside of office hours to check up on me and see if there is any way he can help.
However, while he and the other embassy staff do not make excuses or blame others, I get the distinct sense that they are being stone-walled by the foreign minister’s office as much as they are by the Egyptian authorities, and that this is weakening their position in their attempts to advocate on my behalf.
This is made evident by the way that when Carr’s office does address the case (one or two very uncommunicative letters so far) he refers to his inability to interfere with an Egyptian legal procedure. I am certain that the embassy staff understand that my case is much more about Egypt’s internal politics, in particular an info-war waged by the old regime to discredit protesters and strikers (by claiming foreign agents like me are paying them), than about any legal niceties. Apart from receiving much initial attention in the propagandistic state media, my case was even mentioned during the highly publicised Mubarak trial by the defence, as evidence of an ongoing plot against Egypt, which was responsible for the deaths of protesters (rather than security forces acting on the former president’s orders).
The embassy staff could also inform him with certainty, were they thoroughly consulted, that the Egyptian legal system is a highly politicised place, and that given the current situation, it is very irresponsible of him to assume that I will receive a fair hearing. Indeed the treatment we have received so far has been anything but fair.
The disingenuousness of this “hands off it’s legal” position is further demonstrated by Carr’s vigorous advocacy on behalf of Ms Melinda Taylor, currently detained in Libya on similarly pollicised charges, (efforts which I applaud).
Why can’t he even make a phone-call on my behalf? Or meet with my family, supporters or union do discuss a plan of action? The fact that he has ignored all such requests, and the nearly ten thousand strong petition urging him and the Prime Minister, to act, raise serious questions about his fitness for his post. He doesn’t seem to care what happens to Australians over-seas unless he sees a political percentage in it.
Thankfully, not all Australian politicians share his disinterest in the rights of citizens abroad. During the period since my arrest the Greens introduced a motion specifically addressing my case, which passed the senate unanimously calling on the government to ensure I was treated fairly. That this motion received support from both the coalition as well as the Greens, shows that it is an expression of neither a progressive nor a conservative political agenda, but instead comes from a common Australian sense of decency and a fair go.
As such I have included the offices of honourable Ms Julie Bishop, the opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs, along with Senator Ludlam from the greens who has been active on this case and similar ones, in the recipients of this email. I hope the common ground they share, as expressed by the above mentioned motion, will translate into coordinated pressure on the government to act.
For four and a half months I have been in limbo, unable to travel, plan my life, or work at anything like my normal capacity. I’ve been dependent on the Media Arts and Entertainment Alliance’s benevolent fund, and other groups dedicated to the support of journalists in crisis, for financial support.
In the light of all of the above, I am asking all those who are receiving this to make a renewed effort to pressure the minister and his government to take action.
Perhaps Tim Glass could coordinate another concerted calling effort?
Perhaps the elected representatives included in this email could raise the issue publicly in parliament?
Perhaps those from the press and advocacy bodies could also raise the issue once more?
The most important questions that need to be asked are:
Why is Carr willing to fly to Libya for the benefit of one citizen (Ms Taylor) who is in trouble, but can’t even make a phone call on my behalf?
I am facing a possible seven year jail term. This is very serious.
Does he realise that the demonstrable difference in the governments responses to these two cases sends a signal of selective apathy that actively weakens my position?
Why has he remained so silent on the issue so far? Are there other pressures preventing him from taking a stand? What are they?
Does Mr Carr really think the Egyptian courts, in this highly politicised environment, can provide me with a fair hearing?
Should a court date be set, will this spur him to action?
Should a decision about the case not happen, how long can I be kept here in limbo before the government will take action?
I thank all of you for your interest and support so far, and look forward to further correspondence on the issue.NOTE: I have put all addresses in the BCC field as I don’t want to hand everyone’s emails to spambots.If people need each others contact details, or even the full list to send a group email, please let me know.PLEASE FORWARD THIS EMAIL TO ANYONE AND EVERYONE YOU THINK CAN HELP!Regards,A
Hi All,I’ve just been called by the embassy staff, who wanted to make sure I knew that Bob Carr has apparently sent a letter to his counterpart the Egyptian foreign minister. This happened on May 31st, the letter itself is private, but the fact that it was sent isn’t.
So far that is still it. I still expect him to make far more vigorous representations once a new Rgyptian government and foreign minister are in place.Thanks again for all your support.Please forward this correction to anyone who you forwarded the first letter too.Regards,