The Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom condemns the verdict against Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy
Ottawa, June 23, 2014 — The Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom condemns the verdict against Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy and his Al Jazeera colleagues, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed.
The three men were found guilty this morning in a Cairo court and have been sentenced to seven years in prison.
Mr. Fahmy was honoured last month in Ottawa as the 16th winner of the CCWPF World Press Freedom Award for the defence of press freedom and freedom of expression.
In a hand-written letter smuggled from his prison in Cairo and read at the World Press Freedom luncheon, he said “to imprison a journalist and attempt to silence his cause is not only an insult to the essence of Egypt’s constitution but also an affront to the global journalism community … A key part of our defence has been to convince the judge of our professional integrity; to prove to him that we are journalists striving for the truth, and not agents of terror.”
The CCWPF argues the verdicts against Mr. Fahmy and his two colleagues are totally unsupported by the evidence presented, and call upon the court to immediately consider an appeal. Failing that, a Presidential Pardon should be given as evidence that Egypt still holds a place among states honouring the values of freedom of the press.
Jailed Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy wins CCWPF Press Freedom Award
Arnold Amber: first recipient of Spencer Moore Lifetime Achievement Award
Winners of 15th annual International Editorial Competition Awards on ‘Big Brother’ Theme
Ottawa—May 1, 2014—An Egyptian-Canadian journalist currently detained in a Cairo prison will be honoured as the 16th winner of the Press Freedom Award at the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom’s (CCWPF’s) annual luncheon celebration at the National Arts Centre.
Mohamed Fahmy, a producer for Al-Jazeera English based in Cairo, was arrested in Egypt on Dec. 29, 2013 along with two Al Jazeera colleagues – Australian correspondent Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed. All are being kept in horrible conditions, without adequate medical attention, in the notorious Tora Prison.
The three Al Jazeera English journalists are on trial in a Cairo court on charges of providing a platform for the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been declared a terrorist group by Egyptian authorities.
Press freedom organizations around the world insist that all the three were doing was producing high quality journalism. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), who nominated Fahmy for the prize, explained that he “has become a target of an oppressive regime bent on stifling any expression of dissent, to the extent that an attempt to cover a story from all angles by interviewing members of the opposition has become equated with membership in a terrorist organization.” In fact, CJFE noted, “Mohamed Fahmy is a passionate journalist and advocate of press freedom who is facing retribution and censorship for exercising his right to free expression.” (more on Mohamed Fahmy)
Cartoons for Free Speech
The CCWPF today also announced the winners of the 15th annual International Editorial Cartoon Competition, which attracted hundreds of submissions from around the world on the theme: “Big Brother is Watching You.”
The first prize of $1,500 is awarded to Bruce MacKinnon of the Halifax-Chronicle Herald. The second prize winner, Pierre Brignaud, a cartoonist with the l’Oeil Régional, a weekly in the Montérégie region in Quebec, will receive $750. The third prize of $500 goes to Angola-born Rodrigo de Matos who draws cartoons for several publications including Expresso, a leading weekly newspaper in Portugal and the Macau Daily Times. (see the winning cartoons)
Arnold Amber Wins Lifetime Achivement Award
This year, for the first time, the CCWPF presented a lifetime achievement award named for the organization’s founded, the late Spencer Moore. The inaugural award was presented to Arnold Amber, the President of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) who in his professional life was an award-winning television producer and active trade unionist. (see award citation)
‘World Press Freedom Day (usually May 3rd, but celebrated this year on May 2nd) serves as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. It is also a day of reflection among media workers about issues of freedom expression and a time to develop initiatives to defend and promote free speech. This year’s luncheon will feature a keynote address by John Ralston Saul, renowned Canadian author and President of PEN International, on “Secrecy, Surveillance and Free Expression.
World Campaign to Free Fahmy and other journalists
Mohamed Fahmy, who moved to Canada with his family 20 years ago, previously worked for CNN and the BBC. He is also the author of “Egyptian Freedom Story,” an account of the 2011 Arab Spring.
Fahmy’s two brothers visited him in prison last Sunday, his 40th birthday, and told him he had won the Press Freedom Award. In a hand-written message smuggled out of a jail where paper and pencil are not allowed, Fahmy stated: “The recognition not only brought joy, but it also lifted the morale of my two colleagues with whom I share a cell. I strongly believe that diplomatic pressure in addition to efforts of press freedom advocates does send a clear message to those judging us in court.”
He added that this award would go a long way toward making the case for him and his colleagues who hope to convince the judge that they are journalists “striving for the truth” and not “agents of terror”.
Ironically, the trial of Fahmy and his colleagues is scheduled to resume on May 3, the UNESCO- designated World Press Freedom Day.
The Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom Award includes a cash prize of $2,000 and a certificate of honour from the CCWPF and the Canadian Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Fahmy, who said he would “proudly accept the certificate,” has requested CCWPF to donate the $2000 prize to the family of the late Mayada Ashraf, a young Egyptian journalist who lost her life while covering the weekly clashes between security forces and the opposition protesters last month.
The CCWPF is a not-for-profit organization run by a volunteer Board. The CCWPF acknowledges the generous cash and in-kind contributions from its many sponsors, which include the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, iPolitics, Rogers ,Bell, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) and many others.
Parliamentarian Kills His Own Bill, Ends Threat to the public broadcaster, CBC
On February 26, 2014, the sponsor of a private member’s bill killed his own legislation just seconds before it was to be approved by the House of Commons in Ottawa. For free expression groups, Rathgeber’s action represents a the closure of a proposed law that could damage the CBC’s ability to protect confidential sources and maintain the integrity of its journalism. (More … )
2013 World press Freedom Day Luncheon
Maher-McGregor honoured with CCWPF Press Freedom Award
Stephen Maher of Postmedia News and Glen McGregor of The Ottawa Citizen have become the 15th recipients of the World Press Freedom Award, the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom (CCWPF) announced today at its annual luncheon at the Ottawa Convention Centre. Maher and McGregor won the Award for a series of stories they co-wrote on the so-called ‘Robocalls” affair exposing fraud in the federal election of 2011. This not only touched off a political firestorm but subjected the two writers to a campaign of smear tactics and vilification.
An Honourable Mention was accorded to Margaret Munro, science writer at Postmedia News for her story on the muzzling of scientists by the federal government, squarely placing the issue of freedom of expression for the science community on the national agenda.
Keynote speaker Charles Sennott, an award-winning, Boston-based journalist and media entrepreneur, addressed the gathering on “Ground Truth in a Digital Age.” After a uniquely dangerous year for international reporting, Sennott explained why journalists must renew their commitment to on-the-ground reporting.
Don Newman, former host with CBC TV will moderate the event.
May 3, celebrated around the world as ‘World Press Freedom Day,’ serves as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. It is also a day of reflection among media workers about issues of freedom expression and a time to develop initiatives to defend and promote free speech.
The Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom Award includes a cash prize of $2,000 and a certificate of honour from the CCWPF and the Canadian Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The 13th annual International Editorial Cartoon Competition, also hosted by the CCWPF, invited cartoons on the theme: “Hard Times and Free Speech” and drew responses from around the world. “When journalists and cartoonists face economic uncertainty or threats to their employment there is great pressure to give up on tackling tough stories, give in to self-censorship or give attention to sensationalist journalism in the service of commercial survival,” said contest co-coordinator Guy Badeaux.
The first prize of $1,500 was awarded to Leslie Ricciardi of Uruguay. The second prize of $750 went to Dale Cummings of Canada, and the third prize of $500 was won by Peter Chmela of Slovakia. (see winning cartoons)
The CCWPF is a not-for-profit organization run by a volunteer Board. The CCWPF acknowledges the generous cash and in-kind contributions from its many sponsors, which include the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, the Canadian Newspaper Association, Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) ,iPolitics, The Ottawa Citizen, Le Droit, the Hill Times, and Embassy newspapers, the National Press Club Foundation, St. Joseph’s, Prospectus Associations, Rx & D and many more.
Access to Information Reform:
CCWPF demands end to government culture of secrecy
OTTAWA, Jan. 31, 2013 /CNW/ – An Ottawa-based press freedom watchdog is challenging the federal government to dismantle its culture of secrecy by reforming the country’s Access to Information legislation, with a parallel shift in attitudes toward citizens’ rights to obtain public records.
The Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom (CCWPF), a non-profit body whose mission is to celebrate and advocate for freedom of expression nationally and internationally, has submitted a 10-page report – Make Access the Rule, Secrecy the Exception – to the Office of the Information Commissioner as part of the Open Dialogue Consultations on reforming the Access to Information Act.
“It is time to bring Canada’s Access to Information Act into the 21st century and to restore Canada’s former leadership in the field,” said Hugh Winsor, member of the Board of Directors of CCWPF and one of the two co-authors of the report, noting that the ranking of Canada’s access legislation, compared to 92 countries has fallen to 55th place according to a study by the Centre for Law and Democracy in September 2012.
“Access to information must not be seen as a privilege, but rather as a fundamental right of citizens,” added Winsor.
Describing the current culture of secrecy surrounding access to information, the report expressed great concern for:
- The growing wait times for the release of information under Access to Information – often well beyond the statutory 30 days. This works to the major disadvantage of deadline-driven journalists, which in turn limits the public’s right to know.
- The increasing extent of redaction (editing, deleting of sensitive portions) of released documents with requesters receiving all of the documentation they request in only 15 percent of all requests submitted in 2010 compared to 41 percent in 2000.
- The tripling of exemptions for international affairs and defence since 2002-2003.
- Government officials avoiding the creation of records, for example by not taking minutes to meetings.
Among changes to the law and procedures, the CCWPF report recommended:
- The Cabinet, the House of Commons, the Senate and the Judiciary, currently excluded from the ATIA through a blanket exemption must be brought under the Act with protocols developed for circumstances when confidentiality is essential.
- A number of agencies and public institutions such as, for example, airport authorities that are currently exempt, should be subject to the law, with a clear definition of what constitutes a public institution.
- Exemptions to the release of information should be minimized and the onus on the government department to prove that non-disclosure is necessary.
- Modernization and simplification of requests for information processes making them less expensive and more user-friendly for the average citizen.
More Power to Information Commissioner
The submission also recommended a significant strengthening of the powers of the Information Commissioner, both in terms of administrative procedures and with regard to the right to examine contested records to determine if they qualify for exemption. “If a department or agency wishes to defy a commissioner’s order to disclose, the onus should be the department or agency to contest it in Federal Court and not on the information requester as is the current practice,” Winsor said.
For further information:Media Contact: Hugh Winsor, phone: 613-729-8604 or 613-296-3601
Freedom of Expression in Broad Strokes
A Traveling Exhibit
Ottawa, April 27, 2011–The Canadian Commission for UNESCO and the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom have launched a traveling exhibition of editorial cartoons entitled Freedom of Expression in Broad Strokes. The exhibit is being shown at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on May 3, UNESCO World Press Freedom Day and will then travel across Canada. (read more …)
Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom
Suite 802 – 350 Sparks Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1R 7S8