CAIRO (NEWS 1130) – An Egyptian court has sentenced Canadian Mohammed Fahmy and two other Al-Jazeera English journalists to three years in prison, the last twist in a long-running trial criticized worldwide by press freedom advocates and human rights activists.
Fahmy faced widely denounced terror charges and had spent more than a year in prison before a successful appeal of an earlier conviction resulted in the re-trial which culminated in Saturday’s verdict.
The 41-year-old’s troubles began in December 2013 when he was working as the Cairo bureau chief for Qatar-based satellite news broadcaster Al Jazeera English. He and two colleagues were abruptly arrested and charged with a slew of offences, including supporting the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, a banned organization affiliated with ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, and with fabricating footage to undermine the country’s national security.
The trio maintained their innocence throughout, saying they were just doing their jobs, but after a trial which was internationally decried as a sham, they were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms.
One of the three men _ Australian Peter Greste _ was suddenly allowed to leave Egypt before their retrial began, under a law which allows for the deportation of foreign nationals convicted of crimes.
Fahmy gave up his dual Egyptian citizenship while behind bars in the hopes that he could follow the same path, but that didn’t happen. He was, however, granted bail in February shortly after his second trial got underway.
Throughout the proceedings Fahmy has pointed out that his case had been complicated by politics in the Middle East, referring to himself as a “pawn” in a rift between Egypt and Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera.
Egypt and Qatar have had tense relations since 2013, when the Egyptian military ousted Morsi amid massive protests.
Qatar is a strong backer of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and Cairo accuses Al Jazeera of being a mouthpiece for Morsi’s supporters _ charges denied by the broadcaster.
Angered by Al-Jazeera handling of the case, Fahmy has filed a lawsuit in Canada seeking $100 million from the broadcaster, saying that it put the story ahead of employee safety and used its Arabic-language channels to advocate for the Brotherhood. Al-Jazeera has said Fahmy should seek compensation from Egypt.
NEWS 1130 spoke with one of his Canadian lawyers Joanna Gislason, who is based in Vancouver. “It’s just really turned into anger. That’s the best word that I’ve got that remains.It’s just anger that these men who did absolutely nothing wrong are back behind bars in a maximum security prison in Egypt.”
She adds what happens next in Fahmy’s case is up to his Egyptian team of lawyers and whether they want to appeal.
The Canadian government has said it has raised Fahmy’s case with Egyptian officials “at the highest level” and called for his immediate return to Canada ahead of Saturday’s verdict.
Fahmy moved to Canada with his family in 1991, living in Montreal and Vancouver for years before eventually moving abroad for work, which included covering stories for the New York Times and CNN.
OTTAWA’S STATEMENT ON FAHMY
The Honourable Lynne Yelich, Minister of State (Foreign Affairs and Consular), today released the following statement:
“Canada is disappointed with Mohamed Fahmy’s conviction today. This decision severely undermines confidence in the rule of law in Egypt.
“The Government of Canada continues to call on the Egyptian government to use all tools at its disposal to resolve Mr. Fahmy’s case and allow his immediate return to Canada.
“Senior Canadian officials in Canada and in Cairo are pressing Egyptian authorities on Mr. Fahmy’s case. This includes advocating for the same treatment of Mr. Fahmy as other foreign nationals have received.
“Canadian government officials have raised this case with Egyptian officials at the highest level and will continue to do so. Canadian officials will continue to provide consular assistance to Mr. Fahmy.”