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  • Journalism is a risky occupation

    Journalism is a risky occupation, especially for those who are assigned overseas in trouble areas. Those of us who are privileged to work at home under safer and comfortable surroundings should consider our selves fortunate and thankful.Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy is still languishing in jail after spending a month in prison and according to his family, his treatment behind bars has taken a sudden turn for the worse. Fahmy was arrested on allegations of using unlicensed equipment and broadcasting false news while working for Al Jazeera English.It is believed that Fahmy has been held in a cramped, cold, insect-ridden cell in a high-security prison complex known for housing notorious criminals. Diplomatic efforts to convince local authorities to provide him with blankets, warm clothes and medical treatment for his shoulder injury have been ignored. Al Jazeera, a Qatar-based news outlet, is pro-Muslim Brotherhood while the present military regime in Egypt is so much against Muslim Brotherhood that they have detained several prominent Brotherhood officials, which includes President Hussein Morsi. It is believed that the Egyptian regime has used that as an excuse to detain Fahmy and several other Al Jazeera staff members. Closer to home, Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang and four Canadian soldiers were killed in 2009 in an improvised explosive device in an armoured vehicle in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The explosion was so massive that the 23-ton armoured vehicle that they were riding in turned upside down and landed facing the opposite direction. The incident sparked an outpouring of emotion among Canadians, especially among those at the Herald who worked with Ms. Lang.In 2003, an Iranian-Canadian freelance photographer was killed by Iranian officials after her arrest in Iran.  Despite denials by Iranian authorities, a former military staff physician has stated that he examined Kazemi’s body and observed that she had obvious signs of torture, including a skull fracture, broken nose, signs of rape and severe abdominal bruising. She held a joint Canadian and Iranian citizenship. In another incident in Egypt, Canadian filmmaker John Greyson and Tarek Loubani, also a Canadian, were on their way to Gaza to explore making a movie about humanitarian work. After they failed to reach their destination because Egypt had closed the border to Gaza, they decided to check out Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations near their hotel. When police cracked down on the protesters, both men followed their instincts with Loubani helping some bleeding demonstrators while Greyson documented this on video. Egyptian police arrested them later when they stopped to ask for directions. According to an Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman both men would be charged with “participating in an illegal demonstration.” He also disclosed that prosecutors were considering espionage charges against the two Canadians based on “surveillance equipment” found in their possession. A classical example of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.From all the above examples, one thing that comes out clearly is that one should avoid visiting to dangerous places. In cases of journalists, this rule wouldn’t apply as they have to be there because of the war or dangerous situations. Many times, the public doesn’t realize how dangerous some places are as long as they receive factual reports of what is going on there from their favourite newspapers or television. But these men and women should be given credit for doing a job at a great personal risk and sacrifice.In many of these cases, the journalists arrested have dual nationality: Canadian and the country where they originally came from. If you feel that situation in the country where you came from is dangerous, then the best course of action is not to go there. By going to the country where one originally came from may also prompt former enemies to bring false accusations in the hope of creating mischief. This is a common practice in totalitarian regimes.The Canadian government can only bring diplomatic pressure on the offending government. In most cases, such actions work but it may take some times before intending result is achieved. There are organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters without Borders, etc., mandated to protect journalists.According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, since 1992, 978 journalists have been killed worldwide. More than 60 percent have been murdered with impunity; meaning no killer was ever brought to justice. As of today, 232 journalists are in prison worldwide, many for doing what would be considered routine reporting in much of the world.We should admire these courageous men and women, dedicated to their profession and should be thankful that they are serving to help function our democratic institutions.