Canadian diplomats will meet again Monday with Egyptian officials in Cairo to press the case of imprisoned journalist Mohamed Fahmy, one day after his Australian colleague was released and Canada was told Egypt is actively considering Mr. Fahmy’s situation.
Peter Greste was allowed to return to Australia on Sunday after spending 400 days in an Egyptian prison along with his two Al Jazeera English colleagues: Mr. Fahmy, who holds dual Canadian and Egyptian citizenship, and Baher Mohamed, who is Egyptian. All three were convicted last year on charges that they had aided and funded the banned Muslim Brotherhood, a political party overthrown in a military coup in 2013.
Monday’s meetings come after Canadian embassy staff were in talks with the Egyptian justice, foreign and interior ministries on the weekend. At the same time, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird discussed the case with his Egyptian counterpart on Sunday. A statement from Mr. Baird’s office said the minister welcomed news of Mr. Greste’s release and noted that he “remained hopeful that Mr. Fahmy’s case will be resolved in short order.”
A Canadian government source said the phone call was initiated by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who sought to assure Mr. Baird that Mr. Fahmy’s case is receiving serious attention. It was the second time the two ministers have spoken about the case since Mr. Baird returned from a visit to Cairo about two weeks ago.
The source said the government is hopeful the matter will be resolved in the next few days.
After more than a year of back-and-forth discussions on Mr. Fahmy’s case, discussions about his release moved to a “new phase” at the beginning of January, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. That’s when an appeals court threw out the journalists’ original conviction and ordered a retrial.
Mr. Greste was deported after the invocation by Egypt’s President, Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, of a decree that allows the president to deport foreign nationals who have been convicted in Egypt and are serving their sentences in the country’s prison system.
The law, however, applies only to foreign nationals and therefore could likely only be applied were Mr. Fahmy to renounce his Egyptian citizenship. It offers no avenue for release for Mr. Mohamed, who does not possess a foreign passport.
Mr. Fahmy’s Toronto-based lawyer, Lorne Waldman, said in an e-mail that Mr. Fahmy is very pleased with Mr. Greste’s release and hopes that he, too, will be released soon. He declined to comment on whether Mr. Fahmy would renounce his citizenship in the hopes of being released under the presidential decree.
Mr. Fahmy’s fiancée, Marwa Omara, said his deportation is “in its final stages.”
A Twitter account in Mr. Fahmy’s name and run by his family included the comments on Sunday, “Why should a human being drop his citizenship to be freed from prison for a crime he didn’t commit?” and “Egyptian Citizenship VS Freedom: Take Your Pick?”
Ottawa has received no indication that conditions could be placed on Mr. Fahmy if he is deported to Canada, the government source said. Canada does not have a criminal offence that is equivalent to Mr. Fahmy’s charges in Egypt, one of the first considerations when repatriating a Canadian convicted of a crime abroad.
The federal government has faced criticism at times for its handling of Mr. Fahmy’s case, with some saying it should have taken a more confrontational approach with the Egyptian government. Last December, Mr. Baird told an Ottawa radio station that Canada was working “in an effective way, not in a loud way,” to secure Mr. Fahmy’s release.
A spokesman for Mr. Baird said the minister has raised Mr. Fahmy’s case on multiple occasions, including during his January visit and during a recent meeting with Egypt’s President in Davos, Switzerland.
In the text of a speech Mr. Fahmy provided to The Globe and Mail last December, he said he is convinced that his case would not have been helped by “bull-horn diplomacy and arm-twisting diplomatic rhetoric” applied by other governments. The speech was delivered in Mr. Fahmy’s absence at an annual dinner for the anti-censorship group Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.
However, when Mr. Baird failed to secure Mr. Fahmy’s immediate release during his last visit to Cairo, Mr. Fahmy issued a statement saying he believed a direct intervention by Prime Minister Stephen Harper might get a swifter response.
Mr. Baird has also reached out to other Arab foreign ministers for assistance with the case, in part because the Egyptian government was facing a range of other issues, from political instability to terrorist attacks, that could pull its attention away from Mr. Fahmy, the source said. He did not name the governments.
During Mr. Baird’s recent trip to Cairo, he announced a number of new co-operation agreements between Canada and the Egyptian government, including plans to help train the Egyptian police. The deal will see Canada working directly with staff from Egypt’s Interior Ministry, the same body that is responsible for detaining Mr. Fahmy. The source said the deal was unrelated to Mr. Fahmy’s case.
Canada’s Minister of State for Consular Affairs, Lynn Yelich, released a statement Sunday morning saying she welcomed the “positive developments” in Mr. Greste’s case. “We remain very hopeful that Mr. Fahmy’s will be resolved shortly,” the statement said, adding that Canadian officials would continue to work with the government of Egypt and provide consular support.
Mr. Fahmy’s mother released an open letter through a news website on Sunday imploring the Egyptian President to use his powers to intervene in the case and pardon her son. The letter, signed by Wafa Abdel Hamid Bassiouni, notes that Mr. Fahmy requires urgent medical care for his hepatitis C and a serious injury to his shoulder. “It hurts me to see his health deteriorating while I have little access to him,” Ms. Bassiouni wrote.
She said her family has demonstrated its dedication to Egypt, adding that some relatives served in the police force and the military and said her son never endeavoured to tarnish Egypt’s image through his journalism. “It breaks my heart that the son of a patriotic family like ours has been wrongfully framed as a terrorist in a trial that produced no evidence to marry with the accusations,” she wrote.
Mr. Fahmy’s brother, Adel Fahmy, sent journalists a link to the letter by e-mail on Sunday.
Al Jazeera’s acting director-general, Mostefa Souag, said in a statement Sunday that he is pleased to see Mr. Greste reunited with his family but that the organization would continue to work for his colleagues’ release. “We will not rest until Baher and Mohamed also regain their freedom,” he said in the statement. “The Egyptian authorities have it in their power to finish this properly today, and that is exactly what they must do.”
Mr. Mohamed’s brother expressed concern on Sunday that his case could be forgotten. The Egyptian producer was sentenced to an additional three years, on top of the seven the other two Al Jazeera journalists received, for possessing a single, spent bullet.
“The last thing we’ve heard is that the deportation for Peter Greste is complete. We’ve heard that Mohamed is either complete or in progress. But no news on Baher,” Mr. Mohamed’s brother Assem told Reuters.
“This is what we expected would happen. Those who rule the country, this is not the first time they’ve done this, there have been foreigners who they have let leave the country when they were in trouble and their Egyptian colleagues are the ones who paid the price.”
KIM MACKRAEL AND TOM STEVENSON
OTTAWA and CAIRO — The Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Feb. 01 2015, 11:00 PM EST
Last updated Monday, Feb. 02 2015, 5:12 AM EST