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Twitter saga ends in jailed translator going free July 10, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings, Translation Sites.

According to CNN.com, a one-word blog post from a cell phone to the social networking site Twitter helped to free an American student from an Egyptian jail, but it took the signatures and support of “thousands of activists” — and three additional months! — to get his translator out. James Karl Buck, 29, a graduate student from the University of California in Berkeley, was working on a photography project for his master’s thesis by photographing anti-government protests over low wages and rising food prices in April. “His translator, Mohammed Maree,” (I think they mean interpreter 🙂 ) is a 23-year-old Egyptian veterinary student in Mahalla, Egypt. The two met, and Maree “offered to help Buck.” That seems a little strange to me. Did they meet in a bar and Maree offered to help him out of the goodness of his heart? Most likely he was expecting to be compensated for his work, but that is never mentioned in the article. Or was he also a fellow civil activist working with him who felt just as strongly about the protests?

Anyway, they were detained during one of the demonstrations. En route to the police station, Buck sent a message via Twitter, and his school hired an attorney and was able to get him released within a day. But Maree remained in jail for nearly three months. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time! “Maree’s family was worried about when, if ever, he would be freed. After reports of alleged torture in prison, relatives feared for his life.”

The Americans were — and still are, apparently — outraged. Shades of the kid who got caned in Shanghai all over again. Sorry, but if you are in a foreign country you need to abide by its rules – this includes not taking photographs of or participating in anti-government demonstrations.

CNN quotes Buck as saying “he hopes to visit his translator in Egypt as soon as possible and meet his family so he can apologize to them and tell them about the impact Maree has made.” He should apologize, but it was also Maree’s choice to help him. If I were Buck, I’d pay him for the three months the poor kid was in jail and stay home before he makes things worse. Foreign governments do not, nor should they, abide by American laws. I hope he learned that very valuable lesson. Too bad no one else seems to think of that aspect.



1. Ryan Ginstrom - July 11, 2008

Just a slight correction of fact: I believe the famous case of caning occurred in Singapore, not Shanghai. I also don’t think that torture in an Egyptian prison is quite on the same level (I’d personally take a few smacks with the cane any day).

2. jillsommer - July 11, 2008

@Ryan: You are correct. It was indeed in Singapore. I considered Googling it to confirm but got waylaid by a client e-mail and forgot all about it. I didn’t mention the caning to compare it to what the poor guy had to go through in prison. My point was that Americans get all up in arms about foreign policy matters that they have no influence on, and that bugs me.

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