Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the federal government has left no doubt about where it stands on the imprisonment of a Canadian journalist in Egypt and will continue to voice its concerns to Egyptian authorities.
Canada’s reaction to the heavy jail terms handed out this week to Mohamed Fahmy, the Egyptian Canadian who was the bureau chief in Cairo for Al Jazeera English, and two colleagues was more tepid than the outrage expressed by countries such as Australia, Britain and the United States. And when Mr. Harper was asked about the case on Wednesday, his tone was measured.
“On the case of the journalist in Egypt, you know, we have been very clear on our deep concerns, not just about the verdict but about this process from the beginning. We have expressed those to the authorities. We have provided and have attempted to provide consular service,” the Prime Minister told reporters in Quebec.
“Obviously there are some difficult circumstances here. But the Egyptian authorities are very aware of the position of the government of Canada,” he said, “and we will continue to press that position going forward.”
Mr. Harper has not publicly addressed the case of Mr. Fahmy since the journalist was arrested last December in a Cairo hotel room along with two other two Al Jazeera television network employees – Australian reporter Peter Greste and Egyptian cameraman Baher Mohamed.
And, unlike the leaders of other countries, including U.S. President Barack Obama, the Canadian government has never openly demanded the release of the Al Jazeera journalists.
Mr. Fahmy and Mr. Greste were sentenced to spend the next seven years in jail. Mr. Mohamed received a 10-year sentence. The Al Jazeera journalists were found guilty Monday on terrorism-related charges of supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood, but they say they were simply doing their jobs and reporting on the short-lived Brotherhood-led government that was ousted by then-general Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in 2013.
Mr. Fahmy’s brother lashed out angrily at Mr. Harper after the verdicts were handed down, demanding to know why the Prime Minister had not asked the Egyptian President to seek the journalists’ release.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott called Mr. el-Sissi on the weekend to make a plea on behalf of Mr. Greste.
But Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told an Ottawa radio station this week that the Canadian government does not engage in “bullhorn diplomacy.” He said both he and Lynne Yelich, the Minister of State for Consular Affairs, had raise the Fahmy case with authorities in Egypt. And he pointed out that Mr. Abbott’s intervention was unsuccessful.
Mr. el-Sisi has rejected calls from outraged Western governments to pardon the three Al Jazeera journalists.
“We will not interfere in judicial matters because the Egyptian judiciary is an independent and exalted judiciary,” he told a military graduation ceremony on Tuesday in a nationally televised speech.
He also urged people to stop talking about court decisions. “If we desire [strong] state institutions, we must respect court rulings and not comment on them even if others don’t understand these rulings,” he said.
Mr. Fahmy told his family, who visited him the day after the sentencing, that he and his two imprisoned colleagues cannot pin their hopes on an appeal in the Egyptian judicial system and he urged the international community to find another way to secure their release.
Adel Fahmy said his brother “is trying to keep the hope, and he’s emphasizing that there must be another solution. We can’t just wait for the appeals court. We are not guaranteed how it’s going to be any different to the circus that just happened.”
Mohamed Fahmy is shocked at the sentence, his brother said. “But he is staying strong and he’s trying to make us feel better, saying, ‘Please don’t be upset, don’t worry, we’re going to find a way out of this.’ ”
The convictions of the journalists came after prolonged court proceedings in which prosecutors showed footage of sheep, football, horses and vacation shots. They refused to share evidence with the defence without a payment of nearly $200,000.
Mr. Baird said the prosecution was based on the fact that Al Jazeera is funded by the ruling family of Qatar, which has also supported the Muslim Brotherhood. “I don’t think anyone believes he [Mr. Fahmy] is in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood,” the minister said, “but obviously the government of Qatar has a close relationship.”
Tom Henheffer, the executive director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, said in an interview that any assertion that the Al Jazeera journalists were working for the Muslim Brotherhood is ridiculous. “Al Jazeera has no tie to the Muslim Brotherhood whatsoever,” Mr. Henheffer said. “It’s a legitimate news outlet.”