Have been honoured once more by those agitating for Assange, who asked me to provide a letter to be read at today’s Melbourne rally;
I’m an Australian freelance journalist, who was arrested, along with my colleagues, in the textile town of Mahalla, a couple hours north of Cairo, where I had gone to interview an important dissident labour leader on the anniversary of Mubarak’s demise. After being held for more than 56 hours by various authorities, and charged with inciting unrest (it is specifically alleged we promised to give money to children if they threw rocks at a police station), we were released, but placed on travel ban pending a decision. The charges carry a maximum penalty of seven years.
My equipment, including all data back ups, has been taken (both what I had with me and things taken from my apartment in a separate raid) and the information trawled through by the authorities. At least one of my sources (a dissident police officer) has been harassed about his connection to me.
For nearly five months now, I have been stuck here, dependent on the unions benevolent fund and other organisations set up to help journalists in crisis. During this time, while the embassy staff has made what efforts they can, there has been no leadership or action from the government on my behalf, with the exception of a private letter from the foreign minister to his Egyptian counterpart. Comparing this with his vigorous engagement on behalf of Ms Melinda Taylor, an Australian lawyer detained in Libya, just country over, shows a deep inconsistency in his, and indeed the governments, commitment to the rights of Australians abroad.
Nowhere is this inconsistency more painfully obvious than in the case of Julian Assange. His abandonment by the Australian government is now so complete that he has been forced to seek refuge in Ecuador.
It is my belief, also, that it is the Assange case lurking in the background that is at least partially to blame for the government’s failure to act on my case. After helping me, a journalist of little note facing pollicised charges in Egypt, how could they fail to act on behalf of Assange, one of the premier journalists of his generation, facing the wrath of the worlds super power in the form of a secret grand jury?
This should be a reminder to all of us, especially my colleagues in the press, that when the freedom of one of us is forfeit, it not only morally, but also practically, imperils the freedom of us all.