June 12, 2014 < Previous Entry | Next Entry >

Breaking: Al Jazeera Reporter Jailed in Egypt Ordered Released After 10 Months

Al Jazeera Arabic journalist Abdullah Elshamy has been ordered released from jail in Egypt after a nearly five-month hunger strike in protest of his detention without charge. Last week we spoke to his brother Mohammed.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we bring you part two of our coverage of detained Al Jazeera Arabic journalist Abdullah Elshamy. He’s been on hunger strike for nearly five months, reportedly lost over a third of his body weight. He’s been held without charge for 10 months and is reportedly suffering from severe anemia, low blood pressure and the start of kidney failure. In a video taken before his transfer to solitary confinement, a frail-looking Elshamy says he’s been denied medical treatment.

ABDULLAH ELSHAMY: My name is Abdullah Elshamy. I am Al Jazeera’s Arabic news reporter. I have been detained since the 14th of August in Cairo. While I was covering the dispersal of Rabaa Al-Adawiya sit-in, I was doing my job as a reporter. And despite the authorities knowing this, I have been detained for 266 days without any charge and without committing any crime. I record this video after I have reached 106 days of my hunger strike to hold the Egyptian government, the Egyptian judiciary and the general prosecutor my responsibility, if anything ever happens to me. I have requested several medical checkups from independent sources, and yet this help has not been provided. I have also—haven’t also gotten any medical care here inside the prison. And this is a record for the history and for the state of documenting my state, and thus, if anything happens to me, whatever it is, either my health fails totally or anything happens to my safety, I hold the Egyptian regime the responsibility of that.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s imprisoned Al Jazeera journalist Abdullah Elshamy. On Wednesday, an Egyptian court extended his detention by 45 days. His brother, with us now in New York, Mohammed Elshamy. Abdullah is his older brother, one of four boys in the family. Can you talk, Mohammed, about how your brother was taken? What happened?

MOHAMMED ELSHAMY: My brother was covering—first of all, he was not based in Egypt. He was Al Jazeera’s West Africa correspondent. He has been in many countries, and he covered several events. Last June, Al Jazeera appointed him to cover the anti-Morsi protests. Then, when Morsi was taken away from office and Al Jazeera offices were stormed by the police, it was impossible for him to stay in Tahrir Square anymore, so he moved to Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square. He covered the anti-military-coup protests throughout July and August.

And on the 14th of August, he—while he was on duty covering the clashes that took place between the army, the police and the protesters, and while the security were trying to break in the sit-in, he was arrested. Him—also there was another photojournalist, who’s called Mahmoud Abou Zeid "Shawkan." Unfortunately, he’s like—he’s a freelancer, so he’s been also for 10 months, and no one is talking about him. So they’re like this.

After that, he was beaten up on that day in the el-Shorouk police station in New Cairo. Later, he was transferred to Abu Zaabal prison in Qalyubia, which is like—it’s in the Great Cairo, but it’s another city outside Cairo. He was there for four months. At the beginning, he got 15 days on—he had like charge, but there’s no—there’s no official charge. Official charges are when you’re referred to court. He has charges like killing police units and officers, spreading sectarian violence, and the most funny charge is denying Muslims from praying and doing religious activities.

AMY GOODMAN: Your brother?

MOHAMMED ELSHAMY: Yeah, he was—

AMY GOODMAN: The journalist.

MOHAMMED ELSHAMY: Yeah. So, it’s ridiculous. Now it’s 10 months since August 2013. He hasn’t been referred to court. Every 45 days, he gets another 45 days extended. Like, in the 10 months, he just has been to the court like just for four times. Other times, he gets the verdict while he’s in prison. So, it’s—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this situation now of thousands of people in Egypt being jailed, and Muslim Brotherhood members, journalists, reformers, dissidents, does it—does it trouble you how our government here in the United States just ignores the violations of human rights that are occurring under this regime?

MOHAMMED ELSHAMY: Yeah, of course. Like, I’m pretty sure if the government of the United States had more pressure or had other intentions to change the way things are in Egypt, they would, because they’re the number one funder of the Egyptian military—$1.3 billion per year, and that’s separate from the military equipment they give them. So I’m pretty sure they can do something.

And also, like, you know, there is an Egyptian-American who’s in prison for 10 months also, and he’s on hunger strike. He’s an Ohio State University graduate, and he moved back to Egypt in 2013 because his mom had to go a surgery. Then, his father is a prominent Muslim Brotherhood figure. When they went to arrest him, they did not find his father. They arrested Mohamed Sultan himself. And he began hunger strike last January also with my brother, and now he’s in intensive care in El-Manial Hospital in Cairo. And the human rights councils in Egypt, unfortunately, they don’t do anything for both of them. And they don’t—I think they don’t even mind if they both die in prison.

AMY GOODMAN: What has been the effect on your family of your brother being detained for almost a year now?

MOHAMMED ELSHAMY: It’s really hard on them, you know, like on every one of us. Abdullah got married before this thing by a few months, and he had been in Mali and Liberia and Nigeria and other countries. So he didn’t—

AMY GOODMAN: Covering for Al Jazeera.

MOHAMMED ELSHAMY: Yeah, he was covering like the elections in Liberia and the war between the Tuareg and the French forces in Mali. And before that, he was in Libya in 2011. So, most of the time he wasn’t like with us because of his—of his work. And him, himself, he always says he never thought he would be jailed in his country, you know. Like, one time I visited him, he told me one of the prosecutors was checking his passport, and he saw like many visas. And Abdullah, by then, he was 25 years. So he told—the prosecutor told my brother, "You’re a pride to the Egyptians, but unfortunately I have to give you another 45 days, because it’s something political."

AMY GOODMAN: He said what?

MOHAMMED ELSHAMY: He said, "You’re a proud to Egypt, that you’re 25 years and going to all these places, covering all these events."

AMY GOODMAN: You mean, "You make Egypt proud"?

MOHAMMED ELSHAMY: Yeah. That’s what the prosecutor told him, but he told him, "Unfortunately, I have to give you another 45 days." So it’s—

AMY GOODMAN: What is Al Jazeera doing?

MOHAMMED ELSHAMY: Like, I know it’s something political. It has nothing to do with like lawyers, or, like, Al Jazeera, they appointed lawyers, and we have family lawyers, but I think everyone knows it’s like the Egyptian government are taking up the [inaudible] as hostage between their—the indifference between them and the Qatari government, because maybe Qatar backed the Muslim Brotherhood in some way, so they’re taking them like hostage, because this has nothing to do with the judiciary system. A few days ago, we got news that Abdullah will be freed in few hours, and—but then, we got a call from the human rights council that, oh, no, if the police said if they release him today, he’s going to—that’s going to encourage all the prisoners to go on hunger strike. Then they said, on his next court appearance, he’s going to be freed. That was yesterday. And on his next court appearance—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And when was the last time you spoke to him?

AMY GOODMAN: He was not freed.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how did he sound?

MOHAMMED ELSHAMY: The last time I spoke to him, his voice wasn’t—like, it wasn’t the way everyone knows Abdullah, like he was strong. And, like, I spoke to him after he got the medical report that showed that he had the beginnings of kidney failure and anemia. His voice was really hard, and he told me he can’t—he can’t stand on—like on his legs. He has to be sitting on a chair all the time. Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Dr. Mohamed Ussama Al Homsi speaking to Al Jazeera last month about the organ damage that Mohammed’s brother, Abdullah Elshamy, may suffer from.

DR. MOHAMED USSAMA AL HOMSI: I reviewed the blood test which was given to me, and it is dated on 8 of May this year. And from the blood test, we see that his hemoglobin is low. He has 8.1 gram per deciliter, which is low. The normal level for a man should be not less than 13 gram per deciliter. His platelets also are low, lower than normal, 120; normal should be 150. He has also evidence of microcytic anemia. That means most likely there is deficiency in the iron. He start to have impaired liver function and also kidney function, in addition to marked anemia. And all of these will—can cause a big problem for him. His liver can also get to failure; his kidney function can go also in failure. And he has also urinary tract infection. All these, they are threatening his life. He may die in—within a few days.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Dr. Mohamed Ussama Al Homsi speaking about the organ damage that Abdullah Elshamy is suffering from, his brother with us now, Mohammed. In fact, looking at the pictures pre-hunger fast, it’s like looking at you. He’s your older brother. Do people confuse the two of you?

MOHAMMED ELSHAMY: Yeah, many people. And, like, even in the family, many people, they’re like, "Mohammed and Abdullah." They think we’re alike. And also, he encouraged me, because I work as a photojournalist also. He encouraged me to be also in this. So, like, many things are alike.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did he go into journalism?

MOHAMMED ELSHAMY: Because we, like, as a family, most of the time we spent when we were younger was in Africa, West Africa and other African countries. He liked writing and reading, and he studied journalism in Cairo, and he graduated 2009. This was like his ambitions. He was—that was his dream, to be working as a journalist in Africa. So he then got a job at Al Jazeera Arabic, and since 2011, and he has been—has been based there since 2011. That’s what he really wanted to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you questioning following in his footsteps, here in the United States also, studying photojournalism, given what has happened to him?

MOHAMMED ELSHAMY: I don’t know. Like, you know, he’s like correspondent, and I’m photojournalist. It’s kind of different. But yeah, like, one of the reasons I’m deciding to do this is because of him, and he really helped me, like support me about this. And many, like, things I needed to get, he supported me in, like, how I would get to that goal. And I was based in Cairo, then I moved to Nigeria, and I moved to Nigeria because I really wanted to be in the same place he is, hopefully. I moved there, and while he was in prison, like having the hopes he’s going to be working there, we’re going to be in the same country.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you very much, Mohammed Elshamy, brother of jailed Al Jazeera Arabic journalist Abdullah Elshamy. He’s been in prison for 10 months in Egypt. Every 45 days, they renew his imprisonment. He has not been officially charged. He works for Al Jazeera Arabic. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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