Canadian officials are pressing the Egyptian government to explain why a new trial date was set for Mohamed Fahmy after Cairo provided assurances last week that the imprisoned Canadian journalist would soon be deported.
Egypt’s Foreign Minister told his Canadian counterpart last Sunday that Mr. Fahmy likely would get out of prison within days, raising hopes that his ordeal was nearing an end. When Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told a reporter last Monday that Mr. Fahmy’s release was “imminent,” the government’s thinking was that if it did not occur that day, it would take place soon after.
Canadian embassy staff in Cairo stayed in close contact with the Egyptian government the past week, said a person familiar with the file – and were surprised by the decision to set a new trial date, announced Sunday.
Canada’s ambassador to Egypt held talks with officials in Cairo on Sunday and Canadian officials asked the office of Egypt’s foreign minister to provide more information about Mr. Fahmy’s situation. The officials were told more information would be provided on Monday, the person said.
Mr. Fahmy’s brother, Adel Fahmy, said in a statement that the announcement by the Egyptian prosecutor that a new trial would start this Thursday is the family’s “worst nightmare.” He criticized Prime Minister Stephen Harper for failing to intervene on Mr. Fahmy’s behalf.
“We are worried and we have been let down by the Canadian government’s conservative approach in the handling of the case,” Adel Fahmy said. “That is also the feeling of the Egyptian officials and public figures sympathizing with us who are shocked that the Canadian Prime Minister had not intervened yet to expedite matters while the Australian most senior official has done an outstanding job in the release of his colleague Peter Greste.”
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott pleaded directly to Egyptian President Abdel Fatteh el-Sissi for the freedom of Mr. Greste, an Australian national who was put on a plane out of Cairo on Feb 1. Mr. Fahmy’s release was expected to follow in the next few days.
A spokesman for Stephen Harper said in an e-mail on Sunday that the Prime Minister had raised Mr. Fahmy’s case “with the Egyptian leadership directly,” but declined to say when the matter was discussed.
Asked if Mr. Harper intends to raise Mr. Fahmy’s case again, Jason MacDonald would only say that the government would continue to raise the issue.
John Baird, the former foreign affairs minister who resigned last week, had lobbied his Egyptian counterparts and Mr. el-Sissi for Mr. Fahmy’s release. Consular Affairs Minister Lynne Yelich has also spoken to Egyptian officials.
After Mr. Greste’s release, there was hope that the Mr. Fahmy would take the same route to freedom as the Australian, under a presidential decree allowing for the deportation of foreigners being held in Egyptian jails. Mr. Fahmy renounced his Egyptian citizenship to make that possible.
But, on Sunday, Egyptian authorities announced that Feb. 12 would be the start of a retrial for Mr. Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed.
The new hearing was ordered in early January after a successful appeal by Mr. Fahmy, Mr. Mohamed and Mr. Greste, whose incarcerations had become the focus of an international campaign for press freedom. They were arrested on Dec. 29, 2013 and convicted last June on charges of conspiring with the banned Muslim Brotherhood to spread false news after a trial that was widely regarded as a sham.
International human rights organizations and Mr. Fahmy’s lawyers “have all called openly and privately on Prime Minister Harper to take a stand but he has failed us immensely,” said Adel Fahmy, adding that the family has had to do much of the lobbying for Mr. Fahmy themselves.
Mr. Fahmy relinquished his Egyptian citizenship under duress, after the Egyptians said it was the only way he would attain his freedom, his brother said.
“It was one of the most difficult decisions he has ever taken that has left him demoralized,” he said. “Now, the general prosecutor is complicating matters even though both the presidency and the Prime Minister have expressed their desire to let him go as soon as possible.”
Ms. Yelich said in a statement on Sunday that the Canadian government is “deeply concerned” to learn that a new trial date had been set for Mr. Fahmy despite assurances that he would be deported along with Mr. Greste.
“Canada calls for the immediate release of Mr. Fahmy,” Ms. Yelich said. “I have, along with former minister Baird, continued to raise this government’s concerns regarding Mr. Fahmy’s case with senior Egyptian officials and I will continue to do so. We remain hopeful that Mr. Fahmy’s case will be resolved in a timely manner.”
Ms. Yelich said Canadian officials continue to work closely with the government of Egypt to try to secure his release and are working to ensure his well-being, but she cannot say more about the case until he is free.
In a strongly worded letter to Mr. el-Sissi on Saturday, Mr. Fahmy’s lawyer Amal Clooney requested the immediate release of the imprisoned Canadian journalist and informed the Egyptian president that she will personally visit Egypt to discuss matters.
“Despite clear assurances that he would be released, Mr. Fahmy remains in detention in Egypt. I therefore plan to visit Cairo in the near future to meet with Mr. Fahmy and to deal with his continued incarceration.”
Her team, she wrote, had been “informed by Egyptian government officials that [Mr. Fahmy’s] release was to follow, and that it was imminent.”
Ms. Clooney requested a meeting with Mr. el-Sissi or his designated officials “as soon as possible” to discuss the status of the case and reminded the President that her team views Mr. Fahmy’s detention as illegal.
GLORIA GALLOWAY, KIM MACKRAEL AND TOM STEVENSON
OTTAWA and and CAIRO — The Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Feb. 09 2015, 6:00 AM EST
Last updated Monday, Feb. 09 2015, 6:13 AM EST