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Jailed Jazeera journalist in emotional return to station

October 15, 2015

A tearful Baher Mohamed, one of three Al-Jazeera journalists imprisoned in Egypt, called for the release of all reporters unlawfully jailed as he made an emotional return to Qatar on Thursday.

Pardoned and released last month, Mohamed was greeted by more than 100 clapping and cheering colleagues at the broadcaster’s headquarters in Doha.

The 32-year-old said the jubilant welcome gave him “goosebumps”.

He was visibly emotional and wiped tears from his eyes as he was presented to work colleagues and shown a video message of congratulations from fellow staff.

“It felt amazing today. I felt lots of love and joy, I even got some goosebumps and I teared up when I was standing in front of everybody, seeing and feeling this love,” Mohamed told AFP.

“It was so hard, I totally lost it.”

He said he could never have imagined meeting his Jazeera colleagues again because he had to “kill his dreams and hopes” in jail.

Mohamed was pardoned and released by Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after spending more than 420 days in prison on charges of fabricating “false” news in support of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which the army removed from power and outlawed in 2013.

His incarceration, together with that of his jailed colleagues, Mohamad Fahmy and Peter Greste, became the focus of a global press freedom campaign.

“We did something beautiful, something that has never been done before,” said Mohamed about the campaign.

“We should continue to help protect other journalists, we should be calling for the release of every single journalist behind bars,” he said.

“We should create a legacy for our profession. We should work to avoid journalists becoming the targets. We are seeing this and it is very serious.”

Mohamed called for reporters to lobby the United Nations to adopt a charter for the protection of journalists.

His immediate plans were to take a “break because I spent too much time in prison”.

Asked if he would return to his homeland, Mohamed, who had ruled out abandoning his nationality to escape prison, replied: “It’s my country, I will return to Egypt.

“I didn’t escape from Egypt, Egypt is my country and I do love my country and people should differentiate between the country itself and those who rule the country.”

He was praised on Thursday by Al-Jazeera bosses for his “dignity” while imprisoned.

Mostefa Souag, the acting director general of the Al-Jazeera media network, said: “Baher was arrested unjustly, accused unjustly, condemned unjustly, but finally, the important thing, he is with us.”

Mohamed was also finally presented with a Royal Television Society award he won earlier this year while still in jail in Cairo.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.