Egypt’s sentencing of Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy to seven years in prison is an appalling miscarriage of justice, the culmination of a nonsensical trial based on farcical charges propped up by evidence that is flimsy at best. On Monday, a judge convicted Mr. Fahmy, along with two of his Al Jazeera colleagues, of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to broadcast false reports of civil strife. Anyone following the journalists’ cases should be outraged. And nobody should be surprised.
Mr. Fahmy is a pawn in a much larger geopolitical game. The Al Jazeera network, based in Qatar and funded by its rulers, is widely seen as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian government has banned the organization and is waging a brutal crackdown on its supporters. Last week 180 of them were sentenced to death on trumped-up charges ranging from murder to sabotage. As the Egyptian government’s paranoia has grown, the rule of law has shrunk.
Mr. Fahmy and his colleagues are not members of the Muslim Brotherhood. They are respected professional journalists, targeted for doing their jobs. The prosecution had no case against them, and the conviction is a direct attack on freedom of speech and of the press in Egypt, of which there is precious little these days. It is also a miscarriage of justice against a Canadian citizen.
And what’s most shameful in this spectacle is how pathetically little Ottawa has done to stand up for Mr. Fahmy. Until recently, his case barely seemed to register on the government’s radar screen. In the wake of his arrest last year, condemnation was swift in coming from many quarters, including Washington and the United Nations. Human rights groups orchestrated online campaigns. Where was Ottawa? Silent. The impression left is that Ottawa hoped to make progress with the Egyptians by talking softly behind the scenes. It has not worked.
Publicly, Lynne Yelich, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Consular Services, managed a meek statement Monday. Canada is “very disappointed” with the verdict, she said, and “concerned that the judicial process that led to his verdict is inconsistent with Egypt’s democratic aspirations.” But Mr. Fahmy’s conviction is just the latest evidence that the current Egyptian government has no such aspirations. The country’s President, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, views democracy as an inconvenient threat. The current regime treats dissidents and journalists as one and the same. The Canadian journalist’s ordeal has revealed the ruthlessness of Egypt’s government. It has also shone a great deal of light on the feebleness of our own.