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Egypt drops charges against Australian journalist Austin Mackell

(IFJ/IFEX) - August 30, 2012 - The International Federation of Journalists joins affiliate Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance in expressing delight that charges against Australian freelance journalist Austin Mackell have been dropped by Egyptian authorities. A travel ban against the journalist has also been lifted. Mackell, a member in good standing of the Media Alliance, had been accused of "inciting people to vandalise public property and governmental buildings"- charges that carried a penalty of between five and seven years imprisonment.

Christopher Warren, Federal Secretary of the Media Alliance, said:"it has been 200 days since Austin Mackell was first detained by Egyptian authorities. During that time he has had the support of journalists around the world. The Media Alliance welcomes the decision to drop the charges against him and hopes this move signals that Egyptian authorities will relent in their actions to stifle the work of foreign journalists, allowing the world's media to freely report on the important changes taking place in Egyptian society."

On February 11 this year, Mackell, his translator Aliya Alwi and a US student Derek Ludovici, drove to the northern Egyptian city of Mahalla al-Kubra to interview well-known trade unionist Kamal el-Fayoumi. Upon arriving, they were attacked and threatened by a small mob. They were instructed by a police officer to go to a police station for their own protection. Over the next 56 hours, they were held in custody and repeatedly interrogated. During this time, they were allowed minimal communication with the outside world. It was alleged by Egyptian authorities that the three had promised children money if they threw rocks at the Qism El-Tani police station in Mahalla. All three denied the charges.

After they were released from custody and subjected to a travel ban, the three faced ongoing threats and harassment. Mackell's passport, camera, laptop, and external hard drive were confiscated, along with 800 Egyptian pounds kept at his apartment. His flatmate's camera was also confiscated, along with Alwi's mobile phone, and money from both Alwi and Ludovici.

The police released their details to the state media. Consequently, their faces and addresses were featured in the media across Egypt, and they were accused of being spies. They were in fear of their lives. Mackell was forced to find safe accommodation and was unable to work without the tools of his profession. He received assistance from the NSW Journalists Benevolent Fund organised through the Media Alliance, as well as assistance from the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Rory Peck Trust.

Egypt's decision to drop the charges came after intervention by Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Egypt's Ambassador Omar Metwally. In April ABC TV Canberra news presenter Virginia Haussegger and Mark Kenny, political editor with The Advertiser newspaper, presented a letter from the Media Alliance's Christopher Warren to Ambassador Metwally expressing the Media Alliance's concerns over the charges against Mackell and urging the Egyptian Authorities to drop the charges.

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