When Egyptian police scooped up UC Berkeley graduate journalism student James Karl Buck, who was photographing a noisy demonstration, and dumped him in a jail cell last week, they didn’t count on Twitter.
Buck, 29, a former Oakland Tribune multimedia intern, used the ubiquitous short messaging service to tap out a single word on his cellular phone: ARRESTED. The message went out to the cell phones and computers of a wide circle of friends in the United States and to the mostly leftist, anti-government bloggers in Egypt who are the subject of his graduate journalism project.
The next day, he walked out a free man with an Egyptian attorney hired by UC Berkeley at his side and the U.S. Embassy on the phone.
We’re glad James is out of jail, but it seems that Twitter probably didn’t spring him — being an American, with access to a cell phone, was probably more important. Which James himself acknowledges:
Back home in Berkeley last night he said he’s still worried about his interpreter and friend, Mohammed Salah Ahmed Maree, who was arrested with him and is still being held incommunicado by Egyptian authorities. Unlike Buck, he didn’t have the muscle of the U.S. Embassy and UC Berkeley.
Buck said that in the middle of the night, hours after his arrest, authorities told him he was free to go.
“I said, ‘No’ and I stayed for 12 more hours and we started a hunger strike at some point. But they grabbed him (Maree) and put him in a different holding area. Finally, they said they had transferred him to another prison,” Buck said
Still, we’ll remember this story if we’re incarcerated for some reason and do have the ability to tap out a text message. The SMS short code for Twitter, by the way, is “40404” — but you’ll have to register your phone before you get locked up.
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