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Monday, December 30, 2013

Egypt Arrests 4 Al Jazeera English Journalists

As my colleague Kareem Fahim reported, Egyptian authorities arrested a team of journalists from the news channel Al Jazeera English on Sunday, accusing them of broadcasting “false news” that damaged national security as well as possessing written materials that promoted “incitement,” including information about student protests in support of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Three of the four journalists were arrested at the Cairo Marriott hotel, where they were said to have turned a series of rooms into an improvised bureau. The journalists have been described in many Egyptian media reports as “a terrorist cell” working in support of the Brotherhood, which the government declared a terrorist organization last week. On Monday evening it was reported that their case had been referred to a special national security prosecutor.

Al Jazeera said that the four journalists detained were Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, a Canadian citizen and the channel’s Cairo bureau chief, who previously worked for CNN and contributed to The New York Times; Peter Greste, an Australian and two-decade veteran of Reuters, CNN and the BBC who last year won a Peabody Award for his coverage of Somalia; Baher Mohamed, a Cairo-based producer; and the cameraman Mohamed Fawzy.

Peter Greste filed a report on antigovernment protests at Al-Azhar University in Cairo just days before he and other Al Jazeera English employees were arrested on Sunday.

In a statement, Al Jazeera English demanded the release of its employees and called their arrest part of a pattern of “harassment by Egyptian security forces which has arrested our colleagues, confiscated our equipment and raided our offices despite that we are not officially banned from working there.”

The arrest of the four men, and the possibility that they could be charged with a terrorism-related offense, came as a shock to many Egyptian bloggers and activists who had grown accustomed to seeing the work of Mr. Fahmy in particular published by reputable international news organizations.

Mahmoud Salem, a well-known blogger, said on Twitter that he and Mr. Fahmy were friends.

Nervana Mahmoud, another prominent Egyptian blogger, said that she had always considered Mr. Fahmy’s work to be critical of the Muslim Brotherhood. After a week in which Islamist militants carried out three bombing attacks in towns in the Nile Delta, Ms. Mahmoud also expressed disbelief that the Egyptian government would choose to prosecute journalists.

Sherif Mansour, coordinator of the Middle East Program at the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the arrests were a politically motivated attempt on the part of Egypt’s military-installed government “to justify the idea that any attempt to interview members of the Muslim Brotherhood are acts of terrorism.”

“These arrests are part of an atmosphere of a government crackdown on any civic activity and using fear-mongering and propaganda to say that any independent or critical views help the Muslim Brotherhood and should be considered terrorist acts,” Mr. Mansour said. “It is happening to nongovernmental organizations, it is happening to political activists and now it is happening to the media.”

Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, one of the Al Jazeera English journalists arrested on Sunday, previously worked for CNN in Egypt.

Egyptian journalists received more ominous news on Monday. In a special report, the Committee to Protect Journalists, which is based in New York, said that in 2013 Egypt, for the first time, was one of the three most deadly countries in the world for journalists, after Syria and Iraq. Six journalists were killed in the line of duty in Egypt in 2013 â€" three on a single day, Aug. 14, as security forces dispersed a Muslim Brotherhood sit-in, killing hundreds of protesters. Egypt and Iraq displaced Pakistan and Somalia as the second and third most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.

Earlier in December, the Committee to Protect Journalists named the top 10 countries that imprisoned journalists in 2013, with Egypt at No. 9. At the time the report was issued, five journalists were in jail in Egypt, including two others from a branch of Al Jazeera. Abdullah al-Shami and Mohamed Badr, both employees of Al Jazeera Arabic, have been in prison since last summer.

“This year there were a lot of precedents for Egypt,” Mr. Mansour said. “It is now among the top 10 jailers of journalists, and in the top three killers of journalists.”

Assange’s Father Met Assad in Damascus

Julian Assange’s father met with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria during a visit to Damascus last week as a member of “a solidarity delegation,” The Australian reported on Monday.

A photograph of the meeting, posted on the Syrian presidency’s Twitter feed and released by the state news agency, showed Mr. Assange’s biological father, John Shipton, seated two places away from Mr. Assad.

A spokesman for the Wikileaks Party, set up earlier this year to support Mr. Assange’s failed bid for a seat in the Australian Senate, confirmed on Monday that its chief executive, Mr. Shipton, had traveled to Syria with two members of the party’s national council.

A Syrian state television report on the delegation’s meetings with senior officials featured comments from Mr. Shipton, who said the visit was intended “to show the solidarity of the Australian people and Wikileaks Party with the difficulties that Syria is … having at the moment.”

A video report from Syrian state television on the visit to Damascus by a delegation from Australia that included John Shipton, the chief executive of the Wikileaks Party.

Mr. Assange’s father, who bears a striking physical resemblance to his son, also called the courage of the Syrian people “an example to the rest of the world in how to resist this plague of terrorism which is sweeping the Middle East and Central Asia.” He added that the Wikileaks Party planned to lend Mr. Assad’s government a hand in getting its message out. “We’ll continue to expose the truth to the Australian people and to our international audience, and next year we will set up an office in Damascus,” Mr. Shipton said.

Another member of the delegation, Gail Malone, wrote during the visit that the group had come “to promote peace and transparency.” She also reminded readers that the Wikileaks Party had warned against Western military intervention in Syria “based on unsubstantiated reports of the Syrian Army’s use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians.”

Jamal Daoud, a Palestinian-Australian who is also a leader of the Wikileaks Party, reported on Twitter that before leaving Syria the group had traveled to the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, the scene of one of the first large demonstrations against Mr. Assad’s dynastic rule in the Syrian capital in 2011.

Responding to reports of the delegation’s visit, the Syrian activist Razan Ghazzawi accused Wikileaks of hypocrisy for exposing the abuses of Western democracies but seeming to have less to say about autocratic governments.

Scenes of Life Aboard a Ship Stranded in Antarctic Ice

Video update on life aboard the stranded ship posted Dec. 30 on Prof. Turney’s Intrepid Science Youtube account.

With the bleak, icy weather outside their windows, passengers and crew on a research ship stranded in the Antarctic are occupying themselves in the cozy interior by reading books or laptops, chatting in small groups and passing food to each other at a communal dining table.

Set to slow, jazzy music, those scenes on Monday were part of a one-minute video meant to offer a glimpse into the life of the people aboard the chartered Russian ship, the 233-foot Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been jammed in place in an unyielding field of ice in the Antarctic since last Tuesday.

But just hours later, a professor leading the scientific expedition posted a series of messages on Twitter that veered from bleak to buoyant after the news came through that yet another attempt by an icebreaker to reach them at their ice-locked position had failed.

For nearly a week, about 70 scientists, crew, students and others have been trying to keep up their spirits and entertain themselves aboard the ship. Their ordeal has been tracked through a steady flow of social media postings and videos, providing a snapshot of rescue efforts and the mundane efforts at keeping themselves occupied.

As my colleague Henry Fountain reported, the Aurora Australis icebreaker got within 12 miles of the Shokalskiy early Monday but had to turn back because of snow and high winds. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the rescue, said the ship may try again to reach the Shokalskiy if the weather improves, or a helicopter could be used if the weather permits.

While Dr. Turney, a professor of climate change at the University of New South Wales in Australia, said there was enough food and other necessities to last several weeks, his timeline on Twitter, @ProfChrisTurney and YouTube account Intrepid Science are a forum for the narratives of isolation and resilience that the unforgiving weather has imposed on those aboard.

News of the latest failed attempt at rescue came after several video messages had been recorded by passengers and expedition members; eager, cold and hopeful.

On Monday, an expedition member onboard, Terry Gostlow, was recorded standing outside on deck, speaking to a snow-flecked video camera lens. “It’s minus 1 and blowing snow,” he said, his shoulders hunched inside his parka. “We are all in a really good mood because the Australis is only 20 kilometers away.”

He said one woman was giving out hugs in the corridor to everyone she saw. A nightly briefing was keeping everyone informed. An impromptu dance routine in the ship’s auditorium provided light entertainment. “All good fun here in the Antarctic,” said Mr. Gostlow. “We love you all we are missing you, but we will be with you soon,” he said.

An expedition member, Terry Gostlow, recorded a video letter on Dec. 30 that was posted on Intrepid Science.

John Black, another expedition member, also appeared in a video letter on Monday, wobbling on deck as he appeared to try to keep his footing in the bullying winds.

“It’s blowing an absolute blizzard here. There is a total white-out. There is snow blowing everywhere and it’s damned cold outside,” he said. He said everyone was “fine” as they they waited for rescue by land or by air. “Either way it’s a fantastic adventure we are having.”

Expedition member John Black in a video message on Dec. 30

The Australian government’s antarctic division, on its website, shows a time lapse video of the changing weather as the Australian icebreaker made its way toward the stranded vessel over the past several days. The days flit by with gray skies and obscured horizons.

On Dec. 29, Nicole De Losa, who was sent on the ship through a contest, sent a video message to her parents and others. She said she has passed her time drawing. There was dancing, and there were plans for singing, on the ice.

“We are all having a good time here as well,” she said. “The morale on the boat is excellent.”

“It is absolutely spectacular here. It is like this magical winter wonderland,” she added.

A video message from Nicole de Losa, another person aboard the stranded ship, on Dec. 29.

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.