Ottawa has formally asked Egypt’s president to pardon imprisoned journalist Mohamed Fahmy or allow his deportation to Canada, his wife said Monday as she implored Prime Minister Stephen Harper to secure her husband’s release.
The development comes after an Egyptian court sentenced Fahmy to three years in prison on Saturday — a verdict which shocked his family and led many international observers to call for his release.
“Nobody understands how this happened,” his wife Marwa Omara told The Canadian Press from Cairo. “I just hope the Canadian government gets Mohamed out from here.”
It’s the second time Fahmy has landed behind bars in the same case. He was originally arrested in December 2013 with two colleagues while working for satellite news broadcaster Al Jazeera English and faced widely denounced terror charges.
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 resulted in Saturday’s verdict.
Fahmy was sentenced for failing to register with the country’s journalist syndicate, bringing in equipment without security approval, and broadcasting “false news” on Al-Jazeera.
Omara said while the applications for Fahmy’s pardon or deportation have been filed by the Canadian Embassy with Egyptian officials, sustained pressure from Ottawa is needed.
“This is an opportunity for Mr. Harper to prove to us that he’s not accepting his Canadian citizens to be in prisons unjustly,” she said. “We’re totally drained from this experience. It’s very hard for us to go through all of this again.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs would not detail what specific efforts Canada was making in Fahmy’s case.
A spokeswoman would only say that Canadian government officials have raised the case with Egyptian officials “at the highest level” and would continue to do so.
“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,” said Amy Mills.
Both the New Democrats and the Liberals have criticized the prime minister for not intervening earlier in the case and have called on him to phone his Egyptian counterpart to personally demand Fahmy’s release.
Defence Minister Jason Kenny, however, has defended the government’s efforts, saying a “degree of forceful discretion” is sometimes required in complex cases like Fahmy’s.
Fahmy, meanwhile, hasn’t been allowed to see his family or his lawyers since he was escorted out of court on Saturday.
“I didn’t even manage to say goodbye to him,” said Omara. “It’s very hard for us, what we’re going through right now, but we’re trying to be strong.”
Fahmy’s family is also concerned about the 41-year-old’s physical health behind bars — he needs medication for Hepatitis C and a shoulder injury.
“I hope the Canadian government understands our situation and tries to act as fast as possible,” Omara said. “We don’t understand the basis behind this verdict…are they incriminating Al Jazeera and Mohamed and his colleagues are paying the price?”
Fahmy and his family have said 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.
Fahmy also expressed concerns before his verdict about evidence that surfaced in the case showing Al Jazeera didn’t have the necessary licences for its journalists in Egypt — something he said he hadn’t been aware of at the time.