Serious allegations against an Australian journalist in Egypt

Update 11pm Monday 12 Feb

Austin Mackell’s blog, The Moon Under Water is a very interesting log of what’s been happening in Egypt in recent weeks.

It seems that the Australian journalist will be deported from Egypt on the pretext that his visa’s expired.

 

Young Australian journalist Austin Mackell is facing serious charges in Egypt after his arrest over the weekend.

Mackell is a freelance who works for Global Radio News, the Guardian, Al Jazeera and many independent outlets. He has been reporting from the Middle East for some time and covering the Egyptian revolution from the front lines.

Egyptian authorities took him into custody along with an American colleague Derek Ludovici and Aliya Alwi, a local fixer .

The trio is accused of attempting to bribe people into joining a protest strike in the industrial city of Mahalla al-Kobra.

There is an online campaign to free Mackell and his colleagues. It is highly likely that the charges against them are a set up and politically motivated. You can keep up with developments on this story by following #freeaustin on Twitter.

An AAP story gives some details of what happened in the town, where the reporter had gone to meet a contact.

Ms Alwi posted details of the ordeal on her Twitter account, writing early on Sunday Australian time that she and Mr Mackell were being transported to a military intelligence office in the nearby city of Tanta.

A few hours earlier, she wrote: “Report against us filed now. Many witnesses saw us ’offering money to youth to vandalise and cause chaos’.”

Another tweet read: “Charges brought against of inciting protest and vandalism. Witnesses have been produced to confirm it.”

One of those witnesses was eight-years old, she wrote.

The trio apparently first believed the police were trying to protect them after they experienced some aggression from locals.

“Our car got rocked and beaten against the glass, got called a whore and all sorts of things. Police escorted us to station,” Ms Alwi wrote.

[SMH 12 Feb]

What’s very interesting about this story is the trade union and activist connection. Mahalla is apparently a hotbed of working class political opposition to the military regime in Cairo. As far as I am aware Austin Mackell is one of the few reporters on the ground who sees this as an important story.

On the ABC there’s a good interview with another Aussie journalist in Egypt Jess Hill who is working for the Global Mail among others.

She talks about the politics of Mahalla. It seems that Austin Mackell may have come across a story the Egyptian authorities don’t want told.

This is really important, not just as a story of Egyptian politics, but also of what journalists should be doing in Egypt and also because Mackell has been accused of something terrible in terms of journalism ethics.

I am inclined to believe this is a set-up and I agree with what Jess Hill told the ABC, it seems like political activists and independent journalists are being given a message from the regime to stay away from sensitive issues. It would not surprise me if the regime now launched Syrian style raids into Mahalla.

I thing Austin Mackell is innocent of the allegations. Anyone who obviously likes cat must be a good person.

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