The campaign to secure the release of Peter Greste, Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Abdullah Elshamy has won a major PR Award. The SABRE Awards EMEA, organized by leading PR publication The Holmes Report, gave the #FreeAJStaff campaign a Gold Award for issues management at their annual ceremony in London.
There were 2,000 entries in this year's competition, which "recognises Superior Achievement in Branding, Reputation and Engagement." The campaigns were evaluated by a jury of more than 40 industry leaders.
The win comes shortly after the PRWeek Global Awards gave Al Jazeera 'Highly Commended' recognition in their Crisis & Issues category for the same campaign.
Both judging panels looked at how the situation went from being a story about journalists arrested in Egypt, to being the biggest press freedom campaign in the history of the news media. The campaign was also nominated by the Middle East PR Association earlier this year.
Mostefa Souag, acting director general of Al Jazeera Media Network, expressed his gratitude. "This recognition from the PR industry is extremely humbling. We were faced with a grave situation and this campaign rose to the challenge. This campaign has had everything: the cultivation of a hashtag that went viral; scores of events in all the continents of the world; extremely nimble and effective crisis communications; the gathering together of the entire news industry; and support from world leaders. All of this was in the noble cause of supporting press freedom."
Abdulla AlNajjar, executive director of Global Brand and Communications, thanked everyone involved in the campaign. "Congratulations are due to the hundreds of thousands of people who have been involved in #FreeAJStaff from right around the world. What's kept us going is the vision of securing freedom for our guys who sacrificed much for the sake of journalism and fulfilling the public's right to know. A lot of stamina has been needed to keep this going. We will not stop until the right verdict has been reached and justice has also been served for those convicted in absentia."
Elshamy was arrested by Egyptian forces in August 2013. He was released in June 2014 after he went on hunger strike to protest his imprisonment without charge.
Greste, Mohamed and Fahmy were arrested on 29 December 2013 and were incarcerated for more than 400 days. They were convicted in June 2014 after a trial that prompted outrage across the world. The verdict was thrown out on appeal, with Mohamed and Fahmy released on bail in February 2015 before a retrial which is ongoing. Greste was deported that same month on presidential order. The campaign for their release prompted Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to say he wished that the whole thing had not happened, and he promised to release the journalists if the courts didn't.