It is a social media campaign that has exploded on the internet and it is making headlines in the world’s most renowned media.
It is a plea for the freedom of press and it all started on December 29 last year, when three al-Jazeera journalists were detained in Cairo, following their coverage of the toppling of President Mohamed Morsi and the violence that followed.
Egyptian authorities have deemed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, pursuing its members and all those who give it a voice, including international journalists. That is why Australian ex-BBC reporter Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian ex-CNN journalist Mohamed Fahmy and local producer Baher Mohamed were arrested. They are accused of conspiring with the Brotherhood to tarnish Egypt’s international reputation.
Al-Jazeera has since demanded the release of its staff, arguing that the charges are absurd, an idea shared by other journalists and politicians around the world. Many have condemned this action as an attempt to end the freedom of expression in Egypt.
To make its case, the Qatari network has launched a huge social media campaign, asking people, around the world, to show their support through the hashtag “#FreeAJStaff”. People showed support by taking a photograph of themselves (selfie) while holding a “#FreeAJStaff” sign. The hashtag has, since then, been reproduced more than 250 million times, just on Twitter.
The campaign has been supported by millions, including top organizations such as the United Nations, the European Union and the White House. On February 27, al-Jazeera also held a global day of protest, to press for the release of its journalists detained in Cairo. The move gave the campaign extra strength as media organisations from all over the world took part in the initiative. Well known journalists, such as CNN’s Christiane Amanpour have also joined the fight.
Although focusing on the imprisoned al-Jazeera journalists, the campaign now has the broader objective of protecting freedom of press, not only in Egypt, but also in Crimea or Syria. Journalism and journalists have become the targets of those who do not want the attention of the international community and wish to keep their agendas hidden.
A worthy campaign, with a worthy objective, that was highlighted in this year’s Polis Journalism Conference, an event organized by the London School of Economics. Participants showed their support for the journalists and the campaign itself by holding a sign with the hashtag “#FreeAJStaff”. I was proud to have been among them.
If you with with to learn more about the campaign and those involved, check out al-Jazeera’s “Journalism Under Fire” page for the latest updates on the campaign, or their Tumblr, always updated with the latest selfies of their supporters.