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Mahmoud Hussein’s case was the canary in the coal mine | Mahmoud Hussein

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December 23, 2016, was supposed to be a happy day for Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein, as he travelled to Cairo to visit his family. But that day turned into a tragedy for him and his loved ones. Upon his arrival, the Egyptian authorities hauled him off to prison, where he has remained for two years now, facing several charges, including “spreading false information”. He is yet to receive anything remotely resembling a fair trial or even adequate medical care.

Just weeks before Hussein was detained, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) announced that nine journalists were in jail globally on charges related to “fake news”. Hussein became the 10th.

Even though the precedent had already been set with such a charge, accusations of spreading false information levelled against journalists increased exponentially after the election of US President Donald Trump that year. His constant use of the term “fake news” to attack media critical of his policies and actions popularised the term as a rhetorical broadside globally.

Today “fake news” is regularly evoked against inconvenient reporting not just by the usual authoritarian suspects, such as in Russia, Syria and Venezuela, but also by governments in relatively democratic countries, including the Philippines, Poland, and Spain.

Legislation criminalising any news reporting that contradicts official information has also proliferated in recent years across the world. Such laws basically determine what reality is – ie, it can be nothing else but the official narrative. In this sense, “fake news” has not only enabled crackdowns on journalists, but it has also become a legal and rhetorical tool for delegitimising the very notion of independent reporting.

As of December 1, 2018, 28 journalists worldwide are behind bars on “fake news” charges. This alarming statistic demonstrates how “fake news” has mutated from a rhetorical cudgel to a legislation-backed weapon employed to silence reporters.

Cameroonian journalist Mimi Mefo was detained in November this year and accused of publishing “false information” after she reported on the killing of American missionary Charles Wesco and the instability in the country’s Anglophone region. Maria Ressa, founder and executive editor of the news website Rappler, is facing a slew of tax evasion-related charges after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte lambasted the media outlet as “fake news” for its critical coverage of his administration.

But the grand champion of persecuting journalists through “fake news” charges has been Egypt: 19 of those 28 journalists imprisoned on such charges worldwide are Egyptians.

In fact, the Egyptian leadership has had the dubious honour of being a trendsetter in the use of “fake news” accusations against journalists: among the first journalists to be hit with these charges were Al Jazeera journalists Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste, who were arrested on December 29, 2013.

Mohamed, Fahmy, and Greste were later freed after more than a year in detention, but more journalists would take their place. In 2015, Egypt passed anti-terror legislation that specifically made it a crime to dispute official accounts of terror attacks. Since then, more and more journalists have been imprisoned in Egypt, and false information charges figure ever more prominently in the justification for their detention.

Egypt has also resorted to mass trials of media professionals. As of December 1 this year, at least 12 Egyptian journalists have been charged under case 441/2018 with “spreading false information”. Among them was Wael Abbas, a prominent blogger, who was arrested on May 23 and only freed from custody earlier this month. This case demonstrates how indiscriminate Egyptian authorities have become in their crackdown on the media.

With at least 25 journalists behind bars (19 of whom accused of spreading “false information”), Egyptian President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi is betting on the silence of the international community, so he can continue to muzzle dissident voices unobstructed. In doing so he has even taken on international institutions.

In April, the Egyptian foreign ministry slammed UNESCO for awarding detained photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid the 2018 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize. Abou Zeid was supposed to be released by now after being sentenced in September this year to five years in prison (which he has already served) in the mass trial of the Rabaa sit-in dispersal; he was charged along with other defendants of organising an armed gathering and resisting the authorities, although he gone to the sit-in to cover it as a journalist. By now, his detention is illegal under Egyptian law and prosecutors are saying that he may not be released until February next year.

The international community must demand the release of Abou Zeid, Hussein and all other unjustly detained journalists in Egypt. An international campaign recently helped Abbas get released from detention. This means the Egyptian leadership clearly cares about its image internationally and therefore, we must keep up the pressure.

We must continue to draw public attention to Egypt’s imprisoned journalists and call out Sisi’s weaponisation of “fake news”. And we must also push back against the increasing prevalence of “fake news” rhetoric which threatens to criminalise journalists around the globe.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Tiger-Cats claim victory against the Argos to maintain home record on Labour Day

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The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were at their devastating best against the Toronto Argonauts when the two locked horns on Labour Day at the Tim Hortons Field.

Just like with previous Labour Day fixtures, the Ticats produced a stellar performance with Dane Evans throwing two touchdown passes while Frankie Williams scored on a 67-yard punt return as they claimed a 32-19 victory on Monday. With this vital win, the Ticats extended their Labour Day home record to 7-0.

For players and fans of the Tiger-Cats, games on Labour Day are a lot more special and losing is something the Ticats aren’t used to.

“We know the fans are going to be behind us, we know Toronto is going to be chippy, we know it’s going to be sunny; we know it’s going to be windy. Everything that happened (Monday) we prepared for. There is something extremely special about Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day . . . you can feel it in the air, I can’t put it into words,” said Evans.

After the COVID-19 induced hiatus, the CFL is back in full action and fans can now bet on their favourite teams and just like with online slots Canada, real money can be won. Hamilton (2-2) recorded its second straight win to move into a tie atop the CFL East Division standings with Montreal Alouettes (2-2). Also, the Ticats lead the overall Labour Day series with Toronto 36-13-1.

In the sun-drenched gathering of 15,000—the maximum allowed under Ontario government COVID-19 protocols—the fans loved every minute of this feisty game. After all, this was the Ticats first home game in 659 days, since their 36-16 East Division final win over Edmonton in November 2019.

The contest between the Ticats and Argos was certainly not bereft of emotions, typical of a Labour Day fixture, as it ended with an on-field melee. But the Argos often found themselves on the wrong end of the decisions with several penalty calls and most of the game’s explosive plays.

Hamilton quarterback Evans completed 21-of-29 passing for 248 yards and the two touchdowns while Toronto’s make-shift quarterback Arbuckle completed 18-of-32 attempts for 207 yards. Arbuckle also made a touchdown and two interceptions before eventually being substituted by McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Bethel-Thompson made an eight-yard TD pass to wide receiver Eric Rogers late in the final quarter of the game.

“They got after us a bit . . . we didn’t block, or pass protect well,” said Ryan Dinwiddie, rookie head coach of the Argos in a post-match interview. “They just kicked our butts; we’ve got to come back and be a better team next week.”

The Labour Day contest was the first of four fixtures this year between Toronto and Hamilton. The two teams would face off again on Friday at BMO Field. Afterwards, the Tim Hortons Field will play host to the Argonauts again on Oct. 11 with the regular-season finale scheduled for Nov. 12 in Toronto.

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Roughriders looking to bounce back after Labor Day defeat

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In what an unusual feeling for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they would now need to dust themselves up after a 23-8 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in what was a Labor Day Classic showdown in front of a full capacity crowd at Mosaic stadium.

Craig Dickenson, head coach of the Riders, witnessed his team with an unbeaten record get utterly dominated by a more superior team from Winnipeg. Now, he has got a lot of work on his hands getting his team back to winning ways as they visit the Banjo Bowl next.

“We’re going to see what we’re made of now…the jury’s out,” said Dickenson.

Dan Clark, who played centre for the Riders expressed his disappointment in losing what was “the biggest game of the year”.

 “If you lose every other game, you don’t want to lose that one. We’ve just got to take the next step,” said Clark in a report. “There are 12 steps to the Grey Cup left and it’s just about taking that next step and focusing on what Saturday will bring.”

With their first defeat to Winnipeg, the Riders (3-1) now rank second place in the CFL’s West Division, trailing the Bombers by one victory (4-1). However, the Riders will have the chance to even the season series during their trip to Winnipeg this Saturday. With the CFL heating up, fans can now enjoy online sports betting Canada as they look forward to their team’s victory.

The Rider’s offensive line will once again have a busy time dealing with the Blue Bombers’ defence.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo, who played one of the best games of his career two weeks earlier, had quite a stinker against the Bombers in the Labour Day Classic—which is the most anticipated game for Rider fans.

Fajardo had a 59 per cent completion percentage which wasn’t quite indicative of what the actual figure was considering he was at 50 per cent before going on a late drive in the final quarter with the Bombers already becoming laid back just to protect the win.

Fajardo also registered a personal worst when he threw three interceptions, but in all fairness, he was always swarmed by the Bomber’s defence.

While Fajardo has claimed responsibility for the loss and letting his teammates down, many would be curious to see how the team fares in their next game and with less than a week of preparation.

Dickenson is confident that his team would improve during their rematch in the 17th edition of the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg. The only challenge now would be the loss of home advantage and dealing with the noisy home crowd, he added.

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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