Austin Mackell was taken into custody in the factory district of Mahalla, north of Cairo. He’d travelled there with a student friend and a translator to report on plans for a nationwide strike.
The Egyptian army has been running propaganda against foreigners, alleging that they’re spending money trying to stir up trouble. And it’s threatening to put a list of foreign NGO workers on trial.
Omar Kamel of the voluntary organisation, No to Military Trials for Civilians, is one of the people who’ve been trying to get Austin Mackell and his companions freed.
OMAR KAMEL: Him and the other guy that’s with him, and the translator, they were caught by these people who claim that they were agents here to incite people to strike and to destroy public property. And then these people took them to the police station.
And the police station basically started trying to trump up charges basically, saying that they’re, you know, going along with those ideas, that they’re here distributing money supposedly and trying to incite the strike and trying to help, you know, promote a strike and trying to pay people to destroy public property.
And so it sort of escalated at the police station and then, eventually they took them to other branches of state investigations and stuff. And then they ended up having to go to the prosecutor’s office, and they ended up having to go to the public court.
MARK COLVIN: I saw some reports earlier on which suggested that the witnesses sort of contradicted each other, and that the evidence seemed to fall to pieces at some stage?
OMAR KAMEL: Yeah, well basically, supposedly initially the story was that they had 15 witnesses corroborating the story. And by the time the whole thing went to court, instead of 15 witnesses you ended up with five witnesses. One of whom was something like an eight-year-old child or something.
And the witnesses, when they started telling their stories, they basically fell apart. I mean, you’ve got one witness saying, you know, there was another child and it’s not the same child. And then you’ve got the child saying, ‘well I couldn’t see anything myself but I was told that these people were distributing money.’ And then you’ve got the, like this other child, the same child. I mean he sounded like he was basically getting coached by one of the police officers involved in pressing the charges.
MARK COLVIN: So if it’s all fallen to pieces then what happens to Austin Mackell? Do they release him?
OMAR KAMEL: Well, no not quite. Because even though, like legally the court basically falls apart, what happens is that they found out that Austin’s stayed past his visa. His visa expired like apparently six months ago or something.
So, yeah. His visa ran out a while ago. So what they’re doing now is they’re saying they’re going to deport him anyway.
The problem is if they deport him, you know, if they’re left to their own devices, deporting takes a few days and it’s going to be a tedious process because he has to go and get investigated by state security or whatever.
We’ve been trying to get in touch with the Australian embassy because if the Australian embassy sends a representative it becomes much easier. Basically he’ll get, he’ll be handed over to the Australian embassy, he’ll be in their custody and they can handle the deportation.
But we contacted…
MARK COLVIN: But all this time he’s been without contact – or did he get a phone call to the Australian consulate or embassy?
OMAR KAMEL: Ok, well two things. First of all, the police department are claiming that they did in fact try to contact the embassy. This may or may not be true, I don’t really trust the police department. But I do know that we ourselves did contact the Australian embassy and they didn’t really send anybody. They said they would send somebody, but they didn’t.
And then when we called them a few hours ago, we called the counsellor a few hours ago, and he basically sounded, he really didn’t sound like he was very concerned. I mean we were telling him that we’re, you know, we’re activists from, like basically we’re like a volunteer organisation, you know, No to Military Trials for Civilians, and we’ve been in Hala and Tanta for the last, like 24 hours basically trying to get help.
And we told the counsellor this on the phone and we told him that, you know, there’s only, there’s a limit to what we can do and that things would go much easier and quicker if the embassy sends somebody over. And he didn’t sound very concerned. I mean he was basically saying, ‘yeah well we can’t send somebody tonight, maybe we’ll try sending somebody tomorrow.’
MARK COLVIN: In the meantime have Austin Mackell and his companions been badly treated?
OMAR KAMEL: Well, no, they were fine. They don’t look like they’ve been violated… they don’t look like they’ve been aggressed in any way. But they’ve been up for the last 36 hours or something. They definitely look tired and stressed out. They’ve been interrogated and questioned and, you know, not beaten up. But otherwise, you know…
MARK COLVIN: It’s hard to see, though, what the consulate could do for somebody who has outstayed his visa by months?
OMAR KAMEL: No, no, we were specifically told what the consulate could do. The consulate could send somebody over, and as soon as they send somebody over, instead of the Egyptian government handling the deportation they would hand him over, they would give custody to the embassy representatives. And the embassy would then handle the deportation.
So instead of Austin spending, god knows, three or four days or maybe longer, in the custody of the Egyptian state until they managed to get him deported, it would take a lot less time, it would be a lot smoother. So, can they do something? Yes, they absolutely can. They can make it quicker. They can make it smoother. The can make it simpler and much less painful.
MARK COLVIN: But whatever happens, Austin Mackell is likely to be deported in a matter of days.
OMAR KAMEL: Yes.
MARK COLVIN: Omar Kamel, of the voluntary organisation No to Military Trials for Civilians, talking about Austin Mackell, the Australian journalist whose still in custody in Cairo.
Source: Abc News