Dear imprisoned journalists, “We are with you” on World Press Freedom Day

May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. I think of journalists, writers,…all those wrongfully imprisoned around the world. I think of their trauma, and their loved ones’ trauma. And I think of their courage. This year, Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian award-winning journalist, released on bail after 412 days of wrongful imprisonment in Egypt, is leading a rally in Vancouver. He is not fully free himself – on prolonged retrial as court sessions are postponed time and again, and having to check in at a police station daily – but he is fighting to free others still imprisoned.

“This day last year, I was a desperate prisoner clinging on any ray of hope in my dingy cell. Knowing supporters were fighting for me on the outside was another reason to continue and not give up.” ~ Mohamed Fahmy

FF Rally Posters on wall

When you’ve experienced wrongful imprisonment, or the wrongful imprisonment of a loved one, you’re compelled to do whatever you can for others sharing that experience. Because you know how all consuming, haunting, and traumatizing it is. Because you know that every supportive action cuts through the trauma fog, making freedom possible.

My friend Josh Fattal was held hostage in Iran for two years and two months. I could not communicate with him during that time – his prison guards withheld my letters to him, and he often didn’t even have a pen to write with – but I could feel his captivity in my bones. And now we carry the captivity of others with us wherever we go.

“In prison, the world conspires to convince you that you are forgotten. The walls stare in silence. The guards look at you as if they’ve never seen you before—appalled that you’d ask for more toothpaste or another cup of tea. The place pretends to have no memory. When word from outside slipped through the cracks or when a hunger strike caused the authorities to hand me letters from home, the prison temporarily dissipated, wind was a message from mom, the sun a salutation from my brother. A guard’s face even reminded me of a childhood friend. The support from the outside kept the struggle going—the struggle to stay human, to be true to myself, to try to love even though my world was full of hate. Evin prison is tough. But Jason, we are with you. As protesters chanted outside of San Quentin Prison, we chant to you: “Inside, outside, we are all on the same side!” Iran’s foreign minister Zarif gave a speech at my university last week. Jason, there were people outside and inside talking about you.” ~ Josh Fattal

The Fahmy Foundation campaigns for Jason Rezaian, The Washington Post’s Tehran bureau chief, at its first Free Press Rally. Jason has been held in Evin Prison for 284 days, much of it in solitary confinement, without access to a lawyer. His family tried to retain Masoud Shafii, the Iranian lawyer who represented Josh, but Iran’s Revolutionary Court continues to block him from doing his job. They’re punishing him for bravely fighting to free Josh, and his friends Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd, and punishing Jason and his family and friends in the process.

I ask you to support Jason and his family and friends on May 3. I ask you to support the other Fahmy Foundation campaigns featured in the Free Press Rally: Shawkan Zeid, photojournalist detained without charge in Egypt for almost two years; and Mohammed al-Ajami, a poet held in solitary confinement in Doha, Qatar’s Central Prison for almost two and a half years. I ask you to do whatever you can to shine a light on press freedom.

“As I continue to battle for my own exoneration, I am proud to work with notable Canadian friends, lawyers, and volunteers to remind world leaders that a free press is a fundamental core of the true democracy they promote.” ~ Mohamed Fahmy

Mohamed Fahmy, Josh Fattal, and I, along with other political prisoners and their family and friends, know what a difference your support can make.

“I guarantee that the journalists fighting to survive in solitary confinement will hear the noise we make for them, just like I did during my imprisonment. Support their cause and mine—the right to report freely and safely.” ~ Mohamed Fahmy

Join us on May 3, 11am outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, and online around the world.

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PRESS RELEASE: Rick Mercer, Stephen Lewis & Michael Ondaatje join 1000s of Canadians supporting Mohamed Fahmy’s return to Canada

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Monday, February 16, 2015

250 notable Canadians, including comedian Rick Mercer, diplomat Stephen Lewis & author Michael Ondaatje, voiced their support today for Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy in an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Harper.

We are writing to urge you to intervene personally and immediately [in Fahmy’s case],” states the letter, signed by 250 supporters, including Academy Award-nominated filmmaker & actor Sarah Polley, Academy Award-nominated director Atom Egoyan and author Naomi Klein.

After 411 days of incarceration in Egypt, Fahmy has been unsuccessful in his attempts to return home to Canada. His legal counsel, Amal Clooney, has stated that there is no legalimpediment to Fahmy’s immediate transfer to Canada.

Currently released on bail and facing a retrial starting February 23, Fahmy and his family are concerned that the Canadian government has not advocated on his behalf at the highest levels of the Egyptian government.

In response, Fahmy’s family and supporters organized the #HarperCallEgypt campaign last week to bring attention to their cause. Last week, the #HarperCallEgypt hashtag was trending on Twitter in Canada, with Margaret Atwood, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power and MP Marc Garneau tweeting their support for his case. This support joins the 50,000 Canadians who have signed an online petition calling for Fahmy’s return to Canada.

Cecilia Greyson, sister of filmmaker John Greyson who was detained in Egypt in 2013 and a coordinator of the #HarperCallEgypt campaign, said that the support has been “overwhelming.”

It’s been absolutely incredible to see support come in from across Canada,” Greyson said. “And it’s not stopping – more and more emails are coming from people asking how they can help.”

With statements of support from NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau issued last week, campaigners for Fahmy’s cause are planning to keep up the pressure until they hear from Prime Minister Harper directly.

“So far, Mr. Harper has not spoken in support of Mohamed Fahmy, and we want to know why,” said Cecilia Greyson. “It’s time to hear from our Prime Minister.”

CLICK HERE to view Open Letter & signatories

Contact: Cecilia Greyson (902) 401-0158

Open Letter to Prime Minister Harper re. Mohamed Fahmy

Feb. 11, 2015

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

I write to you as a Canadian, and as a survivor of having a loved one wrongfully imprisoned in Iran. I write to you knowing what it feels like every moment of every day a loved is held captive for political reasons alone. It is haunting. It is impossible to feel free. It is impossible to focus on anything other than setting them free. With your own two hands. Even when the power to do so is not in your hands.

The power is in your hands to call the Egyptian President and seek Mohamed Fahmy’s immediate release. He has been imprisoned in one of the worst prisons in the world for 411 days. 411 days! When every moment of every one of those days is torturous for him and all of his loved ones. His family has had to put their lives on hold and fight for his freedom with everything in them. For 411 days. Surely you can make one phone call to prevent them all from suffering one more unnecessary moment.

When my American friends Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd were wrongfully imprisoned in Iran, President Obama made a powerful public statement at the one year mark. He spoke to their families, publicly assuring them “that the U.S. government would continue to do all that it could to secure their release,” and closing his statement with “All Americans stand together in support of our citizens who are suffering through unjust detention abroad, and we will not rest until they are home. “

Don’t you stand with all Canadians in support of our citizens suffering through unjust detention abroad? Don’t you have the responsibility on behalf of all Canadians to intervene and end Mohamed Fahmy’s suffering through unjust detention abroad?

I am doing everything in my power to end the suffering of Mohamed Fahmy and his loved ones. I am asking you to do the same. Please call President Sisi and prevent Mohamed Fahmy’s unacceptable nightmare from continuing for one more moment.

Thank you,

Farah N. Mawani