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On the 12th of September, at our annual fundraising dinner at the San Remo Ballroom, the Liberty Victoria 2015 Voltaire Award was made to the "three brothers", Al Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy. The award was given in recognition of their courage and persistence in reporting news of the traumatic events in Egypt and their dignified and principled stance in the face of persecution by the authorities and, sadly, the judicial process. A most poignant moment of the evening was hearing the words of courage and determination from Fahmy conveyed from his prison cell to Liberty Victoria by his wife, Marwa. You can read these words below.
We were absolutely delighted when on 23 September Baher and Fahmy were pardoned by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and released from prison in Cairo. As Liberty President George Georgiou SC said in a press release, “Images of the men being reunited with their families are deeply moving, and remind us of the importance of the fight against arbitrary politically motivated imprisonment of journalists. Liberty Victoria was proud to campaign on behalf of the three brothers. But we need to remember that this is the first step in a long road as dozens of journalists remain imprisoned in Egypt and across the globe, whose plights deserve every bit as much attention as those of Baher, Fahmy and Peter. Liberty Victoria will not forget them, and we stand beside them.” We hope that Peter will be pardoned in due course too.
The keynote address delivered by Investigations Editor at The Age, Michael Bachelard highlighted the many assaults on free speech and the threat of these to democracy. As he explained, through new metadata laws, changes to the ASIO Act, the Border Force Act, and a range of other developments, free speech as it relates journalism is under institutional attack. Michael’s address was published in the Age on the 14th of September.
Master of Ceremonies was writer, comedian, author and social commentator, Catherine Deveny and on music we heard Sudanese-Australian singer and song-writer Ajak Mabia with Elliott Folvig.
Thanks to our sponsors we had an enormous array of auction items, including a beautiful oil painting titled “Hope”, created specifically for the evening and generously donated by Melbourne artist Pasquale Giardino. A full list of our sponsors is below.
Thank you to those who were able to come along, making this such an inspiring and successful evening. Your support is greatly appreciated. If you were not able to make it, look out for the video link to the award night and Michael Bachelard’s keynote address to be posted shortly. You can view the video link to Peter Greste’s acceptance here.
We hope to see you at next year’s Award evening. Voltaire Award nominations by members for 2016 will be opening soon.
Verbal comments from Mohamed Fahmy
Conveyed by his wife Marwa Omara
In thanks to Liberty Victoria for its recognition and support
Melbourne, Sept. 12, 2015
I am pleased to be able to offer some remarks to Liberty Victoria and several hundred guests attending this year’s Voltaire awards ceremony.
It is an honour to receive recognition from such a prestigious organization with an almost 80 year record of advocating for fundamental freedoms and liberties.
I am speaking to you from a cell in Cairo’s Tora prison complex, and have asked my wife Marwa Omara to convey my thoughts to you.
It is only fitting that I now share a prison cell with Baher Mohamed. It is a surreal sequel to our first saga in which ‘we three brothers’—Baher, Peter Greste and I—were first incarcerated for 411 days.
I can tell you that when the verdict was first read out August 29 I was overcome with profound disappointment and shock that I could be found guilty.
Marwa cried out in disbelief as the three-year sentence was read. The same dagger that stabbed deeply into her heart stabbed mine. Baher and I hugged for a long minute, refusing to let our tears fall freely in sight of others
But since then I have found a new inner strength.
Today I defy defeat.
So it is with enormous pride that I share the stage—so to speak—with my colleagues to receive such a prestigious award. The support from Liberty Victoria and its members has been a lifeline throughout this ordeal—especially during our darkest hours in prison. To know that you are on our side has and continues to sustain us.
Your efforts and support are symbolic of the broad movement that has arisen powerfully in defense of journalists and our plight around the world. This movement will continue to advocate for the right of all journalists to report the news freely and safely.
It strikes me that one of the fundamental principles of the right of journalists to report news freely and safely is the responsibility of media employers—a declining number of rather large corporations—to ensure that corporate actions support a safe and secure work environment.
And when they don’t, they need to be held to account. Journalists should not have to pay the price—as I am—for the transgressions of media corporations.
I offer these final thoughts.
During the last 20 months I have learned to turn suffering into optimism and hope—an achievement of humanity for all of us who continue to insist, be it through tweets, legal action, reporting the news or protest, that journalism is not a crime.
I went into journalism to make a difference in people’s lives and to cover the stories that most need telling. I now know more than ever what it means to be allowed to report freely and safely.
Liberty Victoria thanks our 2015 Auction and Raffle Prize Sponsors for their support in raising important funds for our work on human rights
Castan and Kantor Families
Coppin Grove Wines
International Language Bookshop
Kenzan Japanese Restaurant
Matt Wynne Jeweller
Mc Coppins Food and Wine
Mesh Hair Spa
Pia Du Pradal
Punch Lane Wine Bar
Rod Clements Cartoon
Room 8 Pty Ltd
Sakura Lounge and Spa
Seven the Women
The Little Deckhouse
Thomas Kane Photography
Torunn Momtazi, photographer
Wild Dingo Press
image: Liberty Victoria Vice-President Jessie Taylor with Peter Greste, accepting the 2015 Voltaire Award for free speech together with his al Jazeera colleagues Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy. Melbourne, 24th July 2015. Image (c) Torunn Momtazi.