Saturday 19 October 2019

How Ireland helped a New York Times journalist escape Egypt when it was feared he was about to be arrested

The New York Times (AP)
The New York Times (AP)

Gabija Gataveckaite

A New York Times journalist from Mayo was rescued by Irish authorities from being arrested in Egypt.

Irish authorities were contacted by the newspaper when a call was received from a US official warning of an impending arrest of a journalist. 

Declan Walsh, who is the Cairo Bureau Chief for the New York Times but is originally from Ballina in Mayo, was reporting on the death of an Italian student, whose body was found on the side of the road with torture marks in Egypt in 2016.

The story had become an "incredibly sensitive subject" for the Egyptian authorities and the New York Times received a call from an official saying that Mr Walsh would be arrested in Cairo.

The publisher of the New York Times, AG Sulzberger, wrote in an opinion piece yesterday that the newspaper was forced to contact Irish authorities after a call from an unnamed diplomat.

“This particular call took a surprising and distressing turn,” Sulzberger wrote.

“We learned the official was passing along this warning without the knowledge or permission of the Trump administration. Rather than trying to stop the Egyptian government or assist the reporter, the official believed, the Trump administration intended to sit on the information and let the arrest be carried out. The official feared being punished for even alerting us to the danger.”

Speaking on the Sean O’Rourke show on RTÉ’s Radio One this morning, Mr Walsh explained that because the Trump administration was not willing to help, the paper turned to Irish authorities.

"The official passed on the info to the paper privately because he said the US government had received this threat warning or knew that this arrest was in the works, but feared that the Trump administration was not going to act so he gave us this info so we could act on it ourselves," he explained.

He then contacted the Irish ambassador, Damien Cole, in Egypt and said that Irish authorities "moved very fast" to get him out of the country.

"Damien sent an Irish official around to my apartment pretty much within an hour with a car and the Embassy driver and I grabbed a few things and we went immediately to the airport from there and I took a flight to Europe, the first flight I could get out," he remembered.

He said that if he was arrested, the outcome would have been "worrying".

"Clearly, [if arrested] that would have been pretty worrysome," he said.

"It's always important to point out that foreign reporters in a place like Egypt do not face the worst perils."

"Egypt is one of the worst jailers of journalists in the world and that is almost exclusively of Egyptian journalists who have been harassed, beaten and arrested and so on," he added.

He also added that reporters are closely monitored by the Egyptian government.

"All foreign reporters in Egypt are under quite a lot of pressure," he explained.

"I think everybody operates under the assumption that the state is watching closely on what reporters are doing," he added.

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