May 3 was World Press Freedom Day. I think of journalists, writers... all those wrongfully imprisoned around the world. I think of their trauma, and their loved ones' trauma. And I think of their courage. This year, Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian award-winning journalist, released on bail after 412 days of wrongful imprisonment in Egypt, is leading a rally in Vancouver and online around the world. He is not fully free himself -- on prolonged retrial as court sessions are postponed time and again, and having to check in at a police station daily -- but he is fighting to free others still imprisoned.
This day last year, I was a desperate prisoner clinging on any ray of hope in my dingy cell. Knowing supporters were fighting for me on the outside was another reason to continue and not give up.
When you've experienced wrongful imprisonment, or the wrongful imprisonment of a loved one, you're compelled to do whatever you can for others sharing that experience. Because you know how all consuming, haunting and traumatizing it is. Because you know that every supportive action cuts through the trauma fog, making freedom possible.
My friend Josh Fattal was held hostage in Iran for two years and two months. I could not communicate with him during that time -- his prison guards withheld my letters to him, and he often didn't even have a pen to write with -- but I could feel his captivity in my bones. And now we carry the captivity of others with us wherever we go.
In prison, the world conspires to convince you that you are forgotten. The walls stare in silence. The guards look at you as if they've never seen you before -- appalled that you'd ask for more toothpaste or another cup of tea. The place pretends to have no memory. When word from outside slipped through the cracks or when a hunger strike caused the authorities to hand me letters from home, the prison temporarily dissipated, wind was a message from mom, the sun a salutation from my brother. A guard's face even reminded me of a childhood friend. The support from the outside kept the struggle going -- the struggle to stay human, to be true to myself, to try to love even though my world was full of hate. Evin prison is tough. But Jason, we are with you. As protesters chanted outside of San Quentin Prison, we chant to you: "Inside, outside, we are all on the same side!" Iran's foreign minister Zarif gave a speech at my university last week. Jason, there were people outside and inside talking about you.
The Fahmy Foundation campaigns for Jason Rezaian, The Washington Post's Tehran bureau chief, at its first Free Press Rally. Jason has been held in Evin Prison for 284 days, much of it in solitary confinement, without access to a lawyer. His family tried to retain Masoud Shafii, the Iranian lawyer who represented Josh, but Iran's Revolutionary Court continues to block him from doing his job. They're punishing him for bravely fighting to free Josh, and his friends Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd, and punishing Jason and his family and friends in the process.
I ask you to support Jason and his family and friends. I ask you to support the other Fahmy Foundation campaigns featured in the Free Press Rally: Shawkan, photojournalist detained without charge in Egypt for almost two years; and Mohammed al-Ajami, a poet held in solitary confinement in Doha, Qatar's Central Prison for almost two and a half years. I ask you to do whatever you can to shine a light on press freedom.
As I continue to battle for my own exoneration, I am proud to work with notable Canadian friends, lawyers and volunteers to remind world leaders that a free press is a fundamental core of the true democracy they promote.
Mohamed Fahmy, Josh Fattal and I, along with other political prisoners and their family and friends, know what a difference your support can make.
I guarantee that the journalists fighting to survive in solitary confinement will hear the noise we make for them, just like I did during my imprisonment. Support their cause and mine -- the right to report freely and safely.
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