Monday, 13 February 2012

Free Austin Mackell, Free Aliya Alwi, Free Derek Ludovici

Australian journalist Austin Mackell, American student Derek Ludovici, translator Aliya Alwi and veteran union activist Kamal al-Fayyumi were all detained by the police in Mahalla El-Kubra, Egypt on Saturday February 11 while attempting to interview workers in the city. I met Austin and Aliya in my time in Cairo in September, and I was immediately impressed with Austin's dedication to telling the dangerous stories in a country still ruled by a dictatorship. He had the sharpest understanding of the real forces at play in Egypt and the region of any Australian commentator I've ever read, and he has dedicated his work to profiling the most critical revolutionary struggles taking place. In short, the kind of person the SCAF doesn't want in the country.

For more info on the case & background to it, please check out the short piece I got up on Green Left Weekly last night.

Right now the latest is that Austin and Derek are to be deported, while Aliya will remain behind bars for at least several days. The charges against them are obviously fabricated; initially there were hopes that it was just a warning for Austin & other journos and he would be freed quickly, but clearly the situation is more serious than that.

For ongoing updates, follow Jess Hill, fellow Australian based in Cairo, and Shahira Abouellail, blogger on the scene in Mahalla.

Tasmanian blogger Bleeter has posted an open letter to his federal MP; please consider emailing it to your local representatives.

To: Julie Collins
Member for (the Australian Federal electorate of) Franklin
Dear Ms Collins,
As my local Federal member, could you please inform me as a matter of urgency as to what assistance the Australian government is providing to my colleague, Austin Mackell, currently facing a court in Egypt after being charged on the weekend and allegedly about to be deported?
Further, I request a statement as to whether the Australian Government believes that Austin has received fair and reasonable legal defence, not limited to the question of whether less than two days is a fair and reasonable time to assemble a defence against the charges faced.
I also seek you to confirm or deny claims that the only Consular access Mr Mackell has received is a telephone call and whether this telephone call was secured against phone tapping procedures that are known to take place in Egypt under the current Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (of Egypt).
Peter Lawler.

Please sign the petition calling for the release of Austin, Aliya and Derek.

I've written the below letter based on the text of the petition to the Egyptian Consul-General in Sydney at; please consider sending one of your own, and encouraging civil society groups, unions, community organisations, etc to sign on and take action.
To Consul-General Ayman Aly Kamel & whom it may concern,

I am writing to express my concern at the reported arrest of Austin Mackell, an Australian journalist, along with several others including Derek Ludovici, Aliya Alwi and Kamal al-Fayyumi.

Austin Mackell is a freelance journalist, who moved to Egypt in February last year. His courageous journalism has sympathetically chronicled the Egyptian struggle for freedom. His writings have been featured in respected media outlets across the world, including The Guardian, Al-Akhbar, Crikey and newmatilda.

I write this as an admirer of the Egyptian struggle for freedom. However, Mackell’s journalism is not just valuable in recording Egyptian bravery. It is also important, because of the West’s hand in oppressing Egyptians, and indeed, much of the Arab world. Mackell’s journalism reminds us of the unpleasant truths of Western foreign policy. The Arab world knows perfectly well the role we play there – it is us who need to learn about it. Mackell belongs to the small category of Western journalists who expose the kind of truths that too often remain uncovered in Western media.

I urge the Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Austin Mackell, Derek Ludovici, and their translator, Aliya Alwi.

A variety of Austin's work published from Egypt can be read on the following websites:

Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any further information on Austin's case or those of the other foreign & Egyptian citizens who have been arrested alongside him.

Patrick Harrison
The reports coming from Egypt are that the Australian Embassy is being "unresponsive" in supporting Austin, and doesn't have any personell at the trial in Mahalla. This is an outrageous yet unsurprising state of affairs; I think snap actions outside of DFAT offices here in Australia are well deserved.

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