Mohamed Fahmy hopes this weekend will mark an end to his drawn-out legal nightmare.
A Cairo court is expected — once again — to deliver a verdict Saturday for the Canadian journalist on trial for widely denounced terror charges and Fahmy is cautiously optimistic.
“We feel like this is the finale,” he told The Canadian Press. “We have suffered immensely for the past 20 months, financially, emotionally, physically, we just want this nightmare to be over.”
Fahmy and two of his colleagues were working for satellite news broadcaster Al Jazeera English when they were arrested at the end of 2013. They were accused by the Egyptian government of supporting a rival political organization and undermining national security through their media coverage.
The trio spent more than a year in prison before an appeal of their convictions resulted in a second trial, although one of them, Australian Peter Greste, was abruptly deported.
Fahmy and his other colleague, Egyptian Baher Mohamed, were granted bail after the start of their retrial, which is set to culminate in a final ruling this weekend.
Fahmy’s verdict has already been postponed twice this summer after the judge presiding over his case was reportedly taken ill. This time, however, Fahmy’s lawyers and others close to the case have indicated a ruling is highly likely, he said.
There are a number of possible outcomes, including an acquittal, credit for the 14 months Fahmy already spent in prison, a suspended sentence or even a return back to a cell.
If he is sent back behind bars, his high-profile lawyer Amal Clooney, who will be in court with him, will immediately push for a presidential pardon and for Fahmy to leave the country under a law that allows for the deportation of foreigners convicted of crimes, he said.
“My worst nightmare is going back to that prison cell and having to go through this whole tormenting emotional process again,” he said.
Since his last court date, at the beginning of August, Fahmy has been busy advocating for the release of other imprisoned journalists and appearing on Egyptian talk shows to discuss his own case.
His efforts come at a time when Egypt has passed new laws that make it more likely for other journalists to end up behind bars. The new rules, which the country’s president signed off on earlier this month, define terrorism very broadly as “any act that disturbs public order with force.”
Journalists are explicitly banned from reporting news that contradicts official government statements, and people found breaching the sweeping laws can face penalties ranging from hefty fines to lengthy prison sentences.
The new laws already appeared to be taking effect — on Wednesday, there were reports that Egyptian newspapers were prevented from being printed or circulated because they had content critical of the country’s president.
Fahmy said the laws will make it very likely that other journalists will find themselves in situations like his, which is why he has been speaking publicly about freedom of the press.
“I have no interest in the politics of Egypt,” he said. “My interest is focused on freeing myself and championing freedom of expression.”
He also noted that while he had no political ambitions, his case was fraught with political undertones because Al Jazeera is owned by Qatar, which has had a tense relationship with Egypt ever since the Egyptian military ousted the country’s former president Mohamed 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.
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.