“Thank you Canada. I will be arriving soon for some love. No terrorism plans, I promise : )”
This is one of several tweets Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy had asked his brother to send Monday as soon as an Egyptian judge ordered his much anticipated release.
But in a shocking turn of events, Fahmy and two other Al-Jazeera journalists were sentenced to seven years in prison on terrorism-related charges, a verdict widely denounced as an attack on the freedom of expression.
“No one expected this verdict at all,” Fahmy’s brother, Sherif, told The Canadian Press in a phone interview from Cairo.
“Mohamed, when I saw him last week… he was extremely optimistic,” he said.
To suddenly see that hope swept away has dealt the family — whose life has been on hold since his arrest six months ago — a crushing emotional blow, he said.
“My parents are too old for this. … My mother, for example, she broke down today, a total breakdown, none of us are able to calm her down at all.”
Fahmy and his colleagues — Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed — were employed with Qatar-based satellite news broadcaster Al-Jazeera English when they were arrested on Dec. 29.
All three were accused of providing a platform for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group of ousted president Mohammed Morsi, which Egypt’s government has branded a terrorist organization.
They were also accused of airing falsified footage with the intent of damaging Egypt’s national security, charges the trio have denounced, saying they were only doing their job.
Fahmy, Al-Jazeera English’s acting Cairo bureau chief, was initially placed in a notorious high security prison but was moved to a lower security facility after pressure from Canadian consular officials.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has said he discussed Fahmy’s case with his Egyptian counterpart, but Canadian officials have suggested that the journalist’s dual citizenship has placed limits on how much they can do.
Fahmy — whose family moved to Canada in 1991 — lived in Montreal and Vancouver for years before eventually moving abroad for work, which included covering stories for the New York Times and CNN.
His family has previously praised the Canadian government, saying it had been working diplomatic channels to help win his release.
After Monday’s verdict, however, Sherif Fahmy said Ottawa should take a clear and public stance in his brother’s defence.
“Call the Egyptian president… call the Egyptian ambassador in Canada, like Britain did today,” he said.
“Do something that proves that you actually care for Mohamed, that is what I am asking them to do.”
The Canadian government said it was “very disappointed” with the verdict.
“Canada calls on the Egyptian government to protect the rights of all individuals, including journalists, in keeping with the spirit of Egypt’s new constitution and the desire of all Egyptians to build a fully democratic country,” Lynne Yelich, junior minister responsible for consular affairs, said in a news release.
Some of the world’s top diplomats condemned the trial Monday, calling on the Egyptian government to guarantee the freedom of the press.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the sentencing of the Al-Jazeera journalists “chilling” and said he is voicing his concerns to Egypt’s foreign minister.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a former journalist, also called Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to say the jailed Australian journalist was innocent, while the country’s Foreign Minister Julia Bishop said she was “appalled” by the severity of the verdict.
_ With files from The Associated Press.