The family of a Canadian journalist who has been a prisoner in Cairo for nearly four months is hoping Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister will raise the case when he meets with his counterparts in Egypt this week.
John Baird arrives Thursday in the Egyptian capital where the Canadian government says he will meet with officials to discuss building Egypt based “on human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.”
Mohamed Fahmy, the English-language bureau chief in Cairo for the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television network, was arrested with two of his colleagues – Australian reporter Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed – on Dec. 29. The men are being tried along with 17 others on charges of conspiring with the banned Muslim Brotherhood to tarnish Egypt’s international reputation.
A spokesman for Mr. Baird said Wednesday that the minister “will raise a number of issues on his visit, including consular cases.” But he would not specify whether those discussions will include Mr. Fahmy, who immigrated to Canada from Egypt with his family about 20 years ago and is a dual citizen.
Sherif Fahmy, Mr. Fahmy’s brother, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday that his family would like Mr. Baird to intervene in the case but is not counting on it.
“We sent an official letter three weeks ago to Prime Minister Stephen Harper,” said Sherif Fahmy. “And there was no response, so that doesn’t give us a lot of hope.”
The family has also asked whether it could meet with Mr. Baird while he is in Cairo. Sherif Fahmy said the minister’s staff indicated that might be possible but, as of Wednesday afternoon, there was no confirmation.
The case of the imprisoned Al Jazeera journalists has garnered worldwide attention and is seen as a test of the new Egyptian government’s tolerance of press freedom. Mr. Baird indicated a couple of weeks ago that both he and Consular Affairs Minister Lynne Yelich have met privately with their counterparts on behalf of Mr. Fahmy.
But, unlike U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders, the Conservative government has not publicly called for the journalists’ release.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair wrote to Mr. Harper on Wednesday asking him to personally intervene in Mr. Fahmy’s case. “Canada needs to send a strong message to the government of Egypt to respect human rights and defend freedom of expression,” Mr. Mulcair wrote.
Sherif Fahmy said his brother is extremely frustrated. “He is starting to get the feeling that he will not get out of this,” he said.
The journalists’ trial, which resumes April 22, has been repeatedly adjourned. At the most recent hearing, the prosecutor introduced videos found on Mr. Greste’s hard drive that he said were evidence that Al Jazeera had falsified news and threatened Egypt’s national security.
But the footage was recorded before Mr. Greste ever worked for Al Jazeera. It included part of a news documentary he had done in Somalia for the BBC and other clips of horses and donkeys at an animal hospital in southern Egypt.
Judge Mohammed Nagi Shehata told the prosecutor: “This clearly does not contain anything supporting the case” against the journalists.
“When he said that, my brother Adel and I looked at each other and we said he seems to be a fair judge and an uncorrupted judge,” said Sherif Fahmy. But the trial, he said “is an embarrassment to everyone. It’s an embarrassment to Egypt, to the judge, to the court system. It’s just embarrassing to all of them.”