The Prime Minister’s Office has reached out to Cairo to request a phone call between Stephen Harper and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi on Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy’s case, an Egyptian government official says.
Mr. Fahmy is out on bail in Egypt after spending more than a year in prison on charges of “spreading false news” to help the banned Muslim Brotherhood. His original conviction was thrown out in January but he is unable to leave the country as he waits for the next stage of his retrial to continue.
As the legal battle drags on, Mr. Harper has faced growing pressure to contact Egypt’s President by phone and try to secure the journalist’s early deportation.
An Egyptian government official told The Globe and Mail that the Prime Minister’s Office requested a phone call between the two leaders on Tuesday, specifically to address Mr. Fahmy’s case. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, could not say whether a call had been scheduled.
Mr. Harper also sent a letter to the Egyptian President last Thursday that called for Mr. Fahmy’s release, the official said.
The Prime Minister’s Office has said Mr. Harper has “personally raised” Mr. Fahmy’s case with the Egyptian President but has so far declined to say if that has included a phone call. It would not confirm Wednesday when asked whether it had requested one this week. On Tuesday, a spokesman for the PMO referred The Globe and Mail to Mr. Harper’s comments in the House of Commons that day.
Asked by NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair on Tuesday whether he had spoken personally with Mr. el-Sissi, Mr. Harper responded that the government had raised the case “at all levels” and would continue to do so “in ways that we believe are effective.”
“We remain optimistic that this case will be resolved. We are disappointed it has not been to this point, but we will continue to press for Mr. Fahmy’s full release,” Mr. Harper said during Tuesday’s Question Period.
A spokesman for the Egyptian embassy, reached on Wednesday, declined to comment on the possibility of a phone call between the two leaders.
Mr. Fahmy was arrested in December, 2013, along with his Al Jazeera colleagues Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed. Mr. Fahmy and Mr. Greste were sentenced to seven years in jail and Mr. Mohamed to 10 after what was widely considered a sham trial.
After the convictions were thrown out this year, Mr. Greste was released under the terms of a recent decree allowing Egypt’s President to deport foreigners who have been convicted or accused of a crime in Egypt. Despite assurances that Mr. Fahmy would also be deported, he and Mr. Mohamed are now being retried.
The retrial was delayed for a second time on Monday, leaving Mr. Fahmy in a legal limbo until it resumes on March 8.
Both Mr. Fahmy and his family have repeatedly called on the Canadian government and Mr. Harper to do more to press for his release.
Reached by phone in Cairo on Tuesday, Mr. Fahmy said the Canadian embassy has assured him it continues to work on his case. But, he added, “I think it needs a big push from Ottawa because it seems that this court is going to take its time. It’s not going to be a quick process.”
Mr. Fahmy said he’s pleased opposition parties have raised questions about his case. “I just want to be extracted from this situation,” he said.
After Mr. Greste’s release, then-foreign affairs minister John Baird commented that Mr. Fahmy’s release was “imminent,” raising hopes for an early deportation.
That deportation did not occur before the retrial was scheduled, however. Cairo would like to avoid the appearance that it is interfering with the country’s judicial system, contributing to a reluctance by the government to deport Mr. Fahmy after the retrial date was scheduled.Report Typo/Error