The Conservative cabinet minister responsible for the safety of Canadians overseas is offering no explanation for her government’s refusal to demand the release of a Canadian journalist being held in an Egyptian prison.
Lynne Yelich, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Consular Services, spoke to journalists in a conference call from Geneva on Tuesday after spending two days in meetings with the United Nations Human Rights Council.
When asked why the government has not been pressing the Egyptians to free Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, who has been held in Cairo since late December on terrorism charges, Ms. Yelich did not respond directly.
“Canada is doing its due process,” she said. “It’s been informed of any updates and this is an area that has been of interest and we are watching it very closely.”
Mr. Fahmy, the English-language bureau chief for the Qatar-based television network Al Jazeera, and two of his colleagues – Australian reporter Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed – have become the focus of protests around the world by journalists and others who say reporters should not be jailed for doing their jobs.
Although the federal Conservative government has provided consular services to Mr. Fahmy and has told the Egyptians that it expects Mr. Fahmy will be given a fair trial, Canada has not joined journalist groups and world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama and representatives of the United Nations, in calling for his release.
Questions directed to Ms. Yelich’s office about the matter since Mr. Fahmy’s arrest have all been deflected to communications staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.
Mr. Fahmy, who came to Canada with his family about 20 years ago, is a citizen of both Canada and Egypt. His family has been told by Canadian consular officials in Egypt that his dual citizenship has tied their hands in terms of demanding his release.
He and his colleagues have been charged with conspiring with the banned Muslim Brotherhood to tarnish Egypt’s international reputation.
They appeared in court for the first time two weeks ago and were denied bail. Their case has been adjourned until Wednesday. During their hearing, they shouted from the defendants’ cage that their imprisonment is “psychologically unbearable.”
Wayne Marston, the NDP critic for consular affairs, said he and foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar have sent a letter to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird asking him to directly interceded in the Mr. Fahmy’s case.
“I cannot understand why the government has not taken that step,” said Mr. Marston. “These guys are really being charged simply for doing journalism.”