Egypt: Radical Australian journo arrested, sign petition

February 11, 2012
Austin Mackell
Austin Mackell. Photo taken from his blog, Moon Under Water.

Australian journalist Austin Mackell, United States student Derek Ludovici, translator Aliya Alwi and veteran union activist Kamal al-Fayyumi were detained by the police in Mahalla El-Kubra, Egypt on February 11 while trying to interview workers in the city.

Sign a petition calling for their release here.

Reports posted by Alwi on Twitter said the group faced 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."

Initially, the group thought they were simply being protected by the police; however, several hours after being detained, the police informed the group that they were being charged with "offering money to youth to vandalise and cause chaos".

Australian government officials said that they had been in contact with Mackell and he reported he was being treated "appropriately by the police".

Alwi said they were being transferred to military intelligence in the neighbouring city of Tanta; there have been no further tweets from her account at the time of writing, and the group's present whereabouts are unclear.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which controls the military authorities, assumed presidential powers when Hosni Mubarak resigned from office on February 11, 2011.

Mahalla has been the epicentre of independent union activity and strikes in the four years before the January 25, 2011 uprising against Mubarak's rule, continuing throughout the year since. Mackell has interviewed workers in the city before; in a video published on April 12 last year, he interviewed Kamal al-Fayyumi about union activity in the city.

In Egypt, activists, unions, bloggers and journalists still face constant harassment — from reactionary "baltageya" gangs paid off by the interior ministry and official state forces.

More than 12,000 people have been arrested and 8000 charged by military tribunals since the uprising against former dictator Hosni Mubarak began a year ago. Many female detainees have been subjected to cruel and degrading "virginity tests".

In recent days, the Egyptian government has been intensifying attempts to discredit protest and shift the blame away from ongoing repression of freedoms and inequality.

Al Jazeera English reported that a letter from the SCAF read on Egyptian State Television on February 10 said: "Egypt is facing conspiracies that seek to topple the state and spread chaos."

The letter said "it will not bow to pressure to accelerate the transition to full civilian rule".

Despite this, millions have continued to take to the streets, and momentum continues to build for the general strike called for February 11, the first anniversary of Mubarak's resignation.

You can read Mackell's blog here

Video: Section of video about workers' struggle in Egypt by Austin Mackell. Speaking from Mahalla El-Kubra, Union Organiser Kamal Elfayoumi talks about the workers struggle that preceded the January 25 Revolution, then takes viewers to a meeting of the previously secret Democratic Labour Party. Austin Mackell.

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