An Egyptian-Canadian journalist being held in a notorious Cairo prison is no longer being investigated for links to a terrorist group but could nonetheless be put on trial, his family said Thursday.
After nearly a month behind bars without being charged, Mohamed Fahmy continues to be interrogated on suspicion of using illegal equipment, broadcasting false news and is even facing allegations of transmitting false information to CNN – his former employer.
“This is totally insane,” Fahmy’s brother Sherif told The Canadian Press in a phone interview from Kuwait.
“Passing false information is insanity and passing false information to his previous employer is more insanity, so we don’t know what is going on.”
Mohamed Fahmy was working for satellite news broadcaster Al Jazeera English when he and two co-workers were arrested on Dec. 29.
Egypt’s Interior Ministry had initially said the arrests were part of a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, which the military-led government branded a terrorist organization after overthrowing former Islamist president Mohammed Morsi last July.
A local prosecutor has since assured Fahmy’s family that the 40-year-old is no longer suspected of links to the group.
“The Egyptian authorities are now sure that Mohamed has nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood, this part of the case is done,” said Fahmy’s brother, adding that the news has offered some relief to his parents, who flew to Cairo from Montreal last week.
The same official also said, however, that Fahmy’s case will “most probably” head to trial.
“This is what shocked us,” said Fahmy’s brother, adding that Al Jazeera English and his brother have vehemently denied all the government’s allegations.
Also worrying the family is the way Fahmy is being labelled by the high-security prison that’s holding him.
During a visit last week – where Fahmy was separated from his family by a thick pane of glass – his relatives noticed prison officials described Fahmy as a terrorist on a visitation form.
The observation has added to the family’s confusion over why Fahmy is being treated like a hardened criminal – a question the journalist himself has repeatedly asked when meeting with his parents and brothers.
“He wanted to know why he was being detained over there and he kept saying he doesn’t know why this issue is prolonging for no reason,” said Fahmy’s brother.
The conditions of Fahmy’s detention – in a cramped, cold, insect-ridden cell – have also been troubling. Initially he didn’t even have a blanket or a pillow, items he’s now been provided after intervention by Canadian officials.
“He was staring at me really hard. When I asked him what’s wrong his response is that he didn’t see daylight for a couple of days,” Fahmy’s brother recalled of his prison visit. “Mohamed told me that (people in prison) are bothering him. Some people say that he will never see daylight again.”
Fahmy is expected to find out at an interrogation hearing on Saturday if his detention will be extended by another 15 days. On Sunday, he is expected to be taken to the hospital for treatment to an injured shoulder – the result of a request made by the Canadian government.
Fahmy’s family moved to Canada in 1991. He and his three brothers all went to university in Canada before eventually moving abroad for work.
As a journalist Fahmy covered stories for the New York Times and CNN among other news outlets before moving to Egypt in 2011 and eventually becoming Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Cairo.
Fahmy’s family has been hoping Canada will help secure the journalist’s release with diplomatic pressure similar to what was seen when two other Canadians – John Greyson and Tarek Loubani – were detained in Egypt last year.
The family initially decried what they saw as a lack of involvement by Ottawa, but Fahmy’s brother said his parents met last week with the Canadian ambassador in Cairo, who reassured them the government was providing consular assistance as they could.
“He also reconfirmed that they are not being able to politically intervene because of his dual nationality and the fact that this problem is in Egypt,” Fahmy’s brother said. “He confirmed that Ottawa has put a lot of pressure on the Canadian Embassy in Cairo due to the media pressure.”
More than 50 news organizations from around the world denounced the arrest of Fahmy and his colleagues earlier this month, called on Egyptian authorities to release the three journalists and to stop arbitrary detentions of media representatives.