The family of an Egyptian-Canadian journalist imprisoned in Cairo issued an urgent appeal for Ottawa’s help Wednesday, as they learned the man had abruptly been charged with being a member of a terrorist group.
Mohamed Fahmy was among 20 employees of satellite news broadcaster Al Jazeera who were charged with several offences in what’s believed to be the first time Egypt has referred journalists to trial for terrorism.
Fahmy was charged with using illegal equipment, broadcasting false news that endangered national security and being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group Egypt’s military-led government has branded a terrorist organization, his family said.
“It’s become a very desperate situation,” Fahmy’s brother Adel told The Canadian Press.
“We are very proud Canadian citizens. We became Canadian citizens because we know that Canada is the most decent country and always protects its people. We need the Canadian government to save my brother.”
Mohamed Fahmy and his two colleagues — Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed— were taken into custody on Dec. 29 at a hotel room in Cairo where they were working after authorities raided the offices of Al Jazeera English.
Egyptian authorities characterized the arrest as part of a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, and depicted Al Jazeera as being biased towards former Islamist president Mohammed Morsi — who was ousted by the military in July — and his Muslim Brotherhood-led supporters.
Al Jazeera, which no longer has journalists reporting in Egypt, has denied any bias and decried the latest developments.
“The world knows these allegations against our journalists are absurd, baseless and false,” a spokesman said. “This is a challenge to free speech, to the right of journalists to report on all aspects of events, and to the right of people to know what is going on.”
A statement from Egypt’s prosecutor said the journalists accused Wednesday — eight of whom are said to be in custody — had established a media network which used two suites in a luxury hotel in Cairo as a media centre, supported with cameras, broadcasting equipment and computers.
The statement said they allegedly “manipulated pictures” to create “unreal scenes to give the impression to the outside world that there is a civil war that threatens to bring down the state” and broadcast scenes to aid “the terrorist group in achieving its goals.”
Fahmy, Al Jazeera English’s acting bureau chief in Cairo, was singled out by an official investigating the case.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Egyptian-Canadian was an alleged member of the Muslim Brotherhood, led the media operation that “fabricated footage” and aired it on Al-Jazeera and CNN with the “aim of harming Egypt’s reputation.”
Fahmy’s family said evidence they and Al Jazeera had provided to refute those allegations didn’t appear to have been taken into account.
“All the progress that we achieved with the lawyer, the interrogations, have become nullified today,” said Fahmy’s brother. “My brother is the furthest from such ideologies or such connections with these groups.”
Fahmy’s parents — who travelled to Cairo from Montreal two weeks ago — informed Canadian officials of the latest developments but said they were aware there was only so much consular staff could do.
Canadian officials have said they are providing consular services to Fahmy and his family and have raised this case with senior Egyptian officials.
Wednesday’s developments were condemned by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, which said it was “extremely concerning” Fahmy was being treated solely as an Egyptian national despite holding Canadian citizenship.
“This seemingly minor detail may have serious implications for Fahmy’s case,” the group said. “It is essential that the Canadian government intervene in the case of Mohamed Fahmy to ensure that these trumped up allegations are dropped, lest he be convicted in a deliberate attack on journalists working in Egypt.”
Fahmy’s family moved to Canada in 1991. He lived in Montreal and Vancouver for years before eventually moving abroad for work which included covering stories for the New York Times and CNN.
With files from the Associated Press.