Mohamed Fahmy released from prison

The former Al Jazeera journalist avoids media scrum with quiet exit

Hassan Ammar/AP

Hassan Ammar/AP

Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, who was pardoned today by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has been released from prison, Maclean’s can confirm.

Fahmy and his Al Jazeera colleagues, Egyptian Baher Mohamed and Australian Peter Greste, were sentenced to three years in prison during a retrial last month on charges of broadcasting material that is harmful to Egypt and operating without a licence. Prosecutors accused them of co-operating with the banned Muslim Brotherhood following a military coup in 2013—charges they denied.

Fahmy and Mohamed were among 100 prisoners pardoned by Sisi a day before he is expected to travel to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly. Greste had already been deported from Egypt at the time of the sentencing last month. Egypt’s state-run MENA news agency said a third person involved in the case was also pardoned, but it’s unclear if this was Greste.

The imprisonment of Fahmy, Mohamed and Greste has been the cause of much international outrage, resulting in wide condemnation of the Egyptian government’s approach to freedom of the press. The Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom gave Fahmy its annual award last year. Amnesty International has also championed their case.

It appears Egypt has tried to avoid some of the publicity and spectacle Fahmy’s release will inevitably bring by quietly releasing him before his scheduled exit.

In an interview with Maclean’s, Fahmy’s brother Sherif, who was visiting Fahmy in prison when news of his pardon was broadcast on a prison television, said: “When we left prison, the officers there informed us to be available in front of the prison tomorrow at 8 a.m. after Eid prayers, because they’re going to release him at that time. Suddenly, when we came back home, we received a call from someone that we know inside the prison [an official]. They informed us that Mohamed has already been released, and they decided to do that to prevent the media tomorrow.

“We know that he is safe. One of his friends picked him up from prison, and he went to his apartment.”

Sherif said he and Fahmy’s wife, Marwa Omara, along with Baher Mohamed’s wife and their kids, were in a prison common area when the news broke.

“Mohamed started crying. I started crying. Baher hugged Mohamed. Baher’s wife told her children that their father would be spending Eid with them tomorrow. Everyone was in tears.”

Sherif said Omara then hugged her husband: “What I can recall is that Mohamed was telling Marwa that they should call them the warrior couple; they are warriors and they won the battle in the end.”

Sherif said Mohamed plans to spend a couple of days in Egypt. He had earlier renounced his Egyptian citizenship in a bid to facilitate his release. Sherif said Fahmy will now try to get that back. Sherif said he understands that Fahmy’s criminal record will be wiped clean and a travel ban the Egyptian government imposed on him will also be lifted.

Omara is Egyptian. Sherif said he has spoken with Canada’s ambassador to Egypt, Troy Lulashnyk, who told him Canada would work to provide Omara with the documents necessary to accompany Fahmy to Canada.

Sherif said he’s unaware what role, if any, Canada played in securing Fahmy’s release. The family had previously hoped he would be deported, the same treatment given to Greste. The pardon was a surprise.

Fahmy and Omara are expected to move to Vancouver, where the University of British Columbia has offered Fahmy a job at its journalism school.

“I’d like to thank everyone that supported us. We had extremely great support from Canadians, the majority of them,” said Sherif. “Hopefully, we can all reunite in Canada.”

Sherif has a new baby daughter. He said he’s especially looking forward to introducing her to her Uncle Mohamed, whom she has not yet met.