Toronto Star

Jailed journalist pins hopes on appeal

Mohamed Fahmy, who is Egyptian-Canadian, has been detained in Cairo for a year


One year after his arrest, Mohamed Fahmy is still waiting for justice.

The Egyptian-Canadian journalist has spent the past 12 months behind bars along with his two colleagues, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed. The three were sentenced in June to between seven and 10 years in prison on terrorism-related charges in a case that sparked worldwide condemnati­on and dealt a severe blow to press freedom in Egypt.

“This experience has definitely affected me and changed me as a person,” Fahmy said in comments provided to the Star through his family. “I’ve realized how much more important family is to me than running after exclusives and covering the front lines and to be consumed by my job only.”

Fahmy was hired as the acting Cairo bureau chief for the Qatari-owned news network Al-Jazeera English in September 2013, just three months before his arrest on December 29.

Prosecutor­s charged him as the lead defendant in a case that accused him and his co-defendants of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhoo­d to spread “false news” and smear Egypt’s reputation in order to bring down the government.

Fahmy was often the most outspoken defendant during the trial, addressing the judge directly on several occasions to plead his case. While observers condemned the trial as a sham, judge Nagy Shehata handed down seven-year sentences for the three detained journalist­s, and gave an additional three years to Baher Mohamed for possessing a single spent bullet casing that he had collected as a souvenir.

On Jan. 1, an appeals court will decide whether to uphold the verdict or order a lengthy retrial.

“I am calling on the judge to embrace the neutrality of his profession and to judge us three on our reporting rather than include us in a malicious political agenda,” Fahmy said.

Relations between Egypt and Qatar have been strained since the summer of 2013, when then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi and cracked down hard on his group, the Muslim Brotherhoo­d, with security forces killing hundreds of Morsi supporters and arresting thousands more. Qatar was a backer of Morsi and the Brotherhoo­d during their brief time in power.

Yet tensions between the two countries have showed signs of easing in recent weeks. President al-Sisi met for the first time this month with a special envoy of Qatar’s emir, the latest step in a Saudi-brokered effort to repair regional relations. The meeting was followed by an announceme­nt that Al-Jazeera had suspended broadcast of its affiliate Mubasher Misr that focused on Egypt and infuriated Egyptian authoritie­s.

“I am very happy with the spirit of reconcilia­tion between Egypt and Qatar recently,” Fahmy said. “The court was actually putting Al-Jazeera and Qatar on trial, not us.”

As was the case with the original trial, Fahmy has opted to retain his own legal representa­tion for the appeal, saying the attorneys provided by Al-Jazeera are ill-equipped to handle the case. Fahmy says Al-Jazeera has refused to reimburse him for the legal costs. After his family was forced to sell stocks and take out loans to pay legal fees, they launched an online fundraisin­g campaign which has collected around $38,000 so far. In addition to local counsel, Fahmy has hired prominent British-Lebanese attorney Amal Clooney.

Clooney and the Fahmy family last week submitted an official request with the prosecutor general for deportatio­n in the hopes of benefittin­g from a decree Al-Sisi issued in November that allows him to deport foreigners convicted of crimes to their home countries.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is scheduled to travel to Egypt in January, where he is expected to discuss Fahmy’s imprisonme­nt. In an open letter last month, Clooney was critical of the Canadian government’s role in the case. “So far senior officials have been shamefully quiet about the travesty of justice that has led to the illegal detention of their citizen,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, the past 12 months in prison have taken a toll on Fahmy and his family. His father was recent- ly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, yet has continued travelling back and forth to Egypt to support his son’s case, forgoing some medical care in Canada.

Fahmy underwent surgery in mid-November, inserting metal pins in his shoulder for an injury that was exacerbate­d by extremely harsh prison conditions in the first several weeks of his detention and from a lack of proper medical care behind bars that has rendered him with a permanent disability. Due to a lack of improvemen­t in his range of motion, doctors recently informed him he will need another corrective operation.

He has also had to put off his marriage to his fiancée, Marwa Omara, which was scheduled for last April. Omara is undeterred and says she will marry Fahmy in prison.

“His being behind bars is not going to stop me or stop our plans,” Omara said as she tried on different wedding rings in a cramped jewelry shop in Cairo on Saturday.

Omara is in the process of applying for a Canadian visa and hopes the Canadian government will help with the paperwork should Fahmy be deported, so she can join him.

 ?? HEBA ELKHOLY/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO ?? From left, Al-Jazeera journalist­s Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste appear in court in Egypt.
HEBA ELKHOLY/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO From left, Al-Jazeera journalist­s Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste appear in court in Egypt.

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