'I am a journalist'

A young journalism student from California, James Karl Buck, got caught up in the rioting in Mahalla last week and was detained by Egypt's security forces. Back in the U.S., Buck is continuing to lobby for the release of his friend Mohammed Maree and hundreds of others who were arrested. This is his statement.
© www.jameskarlbuck.com

"I am a student journalist, studying at University of California Berkeley. I came to Egypt on March 24, 2008 to do some reporting for a student project.

On April 6, I travelled to Mahalla having heard of the strike planned. On April 7, I returned and covered the ensuing riots. I was helped by a friend I'd met, Mohammed Salah Ahmed Maree.

On April 10, around 6 p.m., I was photographing outside the Mahalla 1st police station where some families who had missing sons, brothers, fathers that had been detained, in many cases without record (so the families don't know if their people are dead, or in jail, or what), were making a small protest outside the station, and I recorded some ambient audio (not interviews).

Police surrounded me and despite the efforts of the crowd to get me free, police caught our taxi and told the driver I was from the CIA. They boarded the taxi and took us to Mahalla 1st station and interrogated us, accusing us of being revolutionary leaders (not true) and demanded to see inside my bag.

I held out for a few hours and on the condition of being released for the search, gave them the bag. They took my memory card and camera and searched the photos. We were not released.

Mohammed and I were accused, threatened and intimidated. We were not harmed physically.

After midnight they took us to the prosecutor's office where we made statements and signed them (in Arabic) that we were students, not leaders, and they gave me back my camera. They kept my memory card. They gave us an unconditional release.

Repeat: we were released without condition, set free, no charges.

Outside the prosecutor's building we were again apprehended by the same officer who had driven us to the office and re-detained, despite telling him we were free. We were not allowed to go back to the prosecutor to get our release papers, despite having the record number. We were taken back to first station without charge or explanation.

They said I could go free but Mohammed had to stay. I said no, I'll stay until we leave together since we were both freed without charge. I said I would not eat until our (his) unconditional release.

We stayed there several hours until around 8 or 9 a.m. until my lawyer hired by my university arrived. He said he could take me but not Mohammed. I said no I would stay.

During these past hours I had received many text messages and phone calls of support which kept me going and advised me. I stayed several hours with Mohammed until they took him to a seperate holding cell. I stayed on and waited for his release.

During this time the city of Mahalla was locked down by police and a convoy of doctors, medical supplies, professors and journalists was stopped at the city border and detained.

Police said they would release Mohammed after the afternoon prayer. Prayer came and went and no release. Finally the chief said he was sending Mohammed to station number two and I had to leave. I asked to stay and was told no. I asked to go to station 2 and was told no.

My lawyer took me back to Cairo [from where I flew back to the States.]

Mohamed Salah Ahmed Maree remains in police custody without [any] charge that I know of.

Most prisoners there while we were in prison were hungry and thirsty, without food or drink for 14 hours, Mohammed said. One was quite ill and needed medecine. Mohammed tried to get food and medicine to the prisoners as the last act I saw him do.

Throughout the time we were together he was steadfast, compassionate and committed to helping me and helping journalism and the truth.

The city of Mahalla has to date some 300 prisoners, many held without record and their families are very worried. I have photos and interviews I have sent to the US ahead of me.

Many, many more political prisoners are held in Egypt, including journalists from many organizations, bloggers, political opposition groups and at times professors and many many private citizens. The conditions that I saw are not humane, without charges, lawyers or any information to the outside, and often without food or drink.

Many officers in the station were sympathetic and kind to us as were many, many people I met and who befriended me in Mahalla. It is an incredibly warm and hospitable place with deeply worried citizens.

Egypt needs the support of the international community at this time to treat its prisoners humanely, promote democracy, get medical care to the wounded and free political prisoners and those arrested off the street and held without charge simply to intimidate the populous and prevent striking. Food prices have skyrocketed and much of the population is at threat of not being able to afford basic staples and maintain work.

My photos are available for free distribution, as is this statement. I stand in solidarity with the political prisoners of Egypt and urge the international community to shine a light on this situation and prevent the militarization and intimidation of a civilian populace. Free and independent journalism without unlawful detention and harassment is a basic guardian of human rights that is being blinded in Egypt at the moment, much to the harm of the people.

Egypt is a beautiful and friendly country, a place I have visited often and where I have made many friends and love to visit and spend time. I am not a member of any political group in or affiliated with Egypt or any Egyptian or other movement.

I am a journalist."