TORONTO — Lawyers for an Egyptian-Canadian journalist imprisoned in Cairo have written to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, imploring him to take action that would help secure the man’s release.
In the letter also addressed to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, lawyers for Mohamed Fahmy argue that Canada should be doing more to support one of its own, particularly when Egypt’s president has recently indicated he isn’t pleased with the way Fahmy’s case has been handled.
“Canada is presented with a historic opportunity to bring an end to the ongoing violation of its citizen’s rights by the Egyptian authorities. It should not miss it,” lawyers Amal Clooney and Mark Wassouf wrote in the letter obtained by The Canadian Press.
Fahmy was working for satellite news broadcaster Al Jazeera English when he was arrested on Dec. 29 last year along with two colleagues —Australian correspondent Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer.
The trio were accused of supporting the banned Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi. They were also charged with fabricating footage to undermine Egypt’s national security.
They denied all charges, saying they were just doing their jobs, but after a trial which was denounced by critics as a sham, the trio were found guilty.
Fahmy and Greste were sentenced to seven years in prison, while Mohamed was sentenced to 10 years.
“These proceedings have been recognized by the United Nations as well as governments and NGOs across the world as being farcical and grossly unjust,” Fahmy’s lawyers wrote.
Their letter acknowledged the disappointment Canada expressed at Fahmy’s verdict, but pointed out that little has been heard publicly from the Canadian government since.
“There has been official silence and insufficient pressure brought to bear,” the letter noted.
“Consular officials have visited Mr. Fahmy in detention, and we understand some conversations have taken place at the diplomatic level. But, for a number of reasons, more now needs to be done.”
Fahmy’s lawyers point out that the 40-year-old journalist’s health has declined in prison as he suffers from Hepatitis C and an injured shoulder _ both conditions which require treatment better than what is provided behind bars, they claim.
Canada also needs to take the opportunity to act now due to the shift in Egypt’s political landscape, the letter stated.
Egypt’s president has said he is considering issuing a pardon for Fahmy and his colleagues, and has also issued a decree that gives him the power to deport foreigners convicted or accused of crimes.
Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has previously said the case has had a “very negative” impact on his country’s reputation and has also said he wished the journalists had been deported after their arrests, which took place before he was in power.
“On the political front, the time for action is now,” Fahmy’s lawyers write.
“In speaking out publicly about the case, Canada could not be on safer ground — it is so clearly a show trial that even Egypt’s president is embarrassed about it.”
Specifically, the letter calls on Canada to encourage Egypt’s chief prosecutor to grant Fahmy a temporary release on health grounds and persuade authorities to clarify if the country’s new law on deporting foreigners convicted or accused of crimes will apply to a dual national like Fahmy.
It also calls on Canada to push for a presidential pardon for Fahmy.
“Canada should be lobbying for this now,” Fahmy’s lawyers write.
A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said both Baird and the Minister of State for Foreign and Consular affairs, have “raised concerns” regarding Fahmy’s case with their counterparts, and “will continue to do so.”
Francois Lasalle added that Canadian officials are providing consular assistance to Fahmy and working with senior Egyptian officials “to ensure his wellbeing.”
Fahmy has filed an appeal in his case, which is set to be heard on Jan. 1.