A Canadian journalist who has been imprisoned in Egypt since late December will learn Monday whether he will be set free or forced to spend as many as 15 more years behind bars.
Mohamed Fahmy, who holds both Canadian and Egyptian citizenship, is the Cairo bureau chief of Al Jazeera English television network. He is jailed along with two of his colleagues as well as journalists from Al Jazeera Arabic on charges of conspiring with the banned Muslim Brotherhood of ousted president Mohammed Morsi to tarnish Egypt’s international reputation.
The case has been the focus of an international campaign for press freedoms and the right of journalists to do their work without fear of persecution.
Mr. Fahmy’s parents, whose home is in Montreal, have spent the past six months in Egypt while their son and his co-workers, Australian reporter Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, have been put through court proceedings that, at times, have bordered on the ridiculous.
“We can’t believe what Mohamed’s been through and what we’ve been through and we really hope it’s the end because I don’t think we can take any more,” his brother, Adel Fahmy, said this week in a telephone interview. Adel and another brother, Sherif, have also been at the court hearings in Cairo.
“We have become stronger towards the end because things are looking more positive,” Adel Fahmy said. “But it’s been a nightmare, to say the least, and we are totally drained.”
Mr. Fahmy’s spirits were raised this week when another Al Jazeera journalist, Abdullah Elshamy, was let go after spending 10 months in jail.
Mr. Elshamy “was on a hunger strike and he was about to lose his life,” Adel Fahmy said. “So we don’t know if that was the reason [he was released] or if it was a general direction to start to appease the international community, to tell them, ‘Okay, we’ve got a new Egypt that is more understanding of freedom of expression and now we will release all of the journalists who do not have something incriminating against them.’”
Mr. Fahmy, who came to Canada with his family about 20 years ago, previously worked for CNN and the BBC.
U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders have called for the release of the Al Jazeera journalists, and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has discussed Mr. Fahmy’s case with his Egyptian counterpart. There have also been numerous social media campaigns launched by news outlets around the world demanding that the men be let go.
Adel Fahmy said he hopes the international response will pay off. “I think many factors worked behind the scenes and yielded what could be good news on Monday,” he said, including the media pressure, the diplomatic effort and a good defence.
Throughout the ordeal, Mr. Fahmy has not received treatment for a shoulder he injured just before he was taken into custody. This week, an MRI revealed he has a fractured humerus bone and doctors say the lack of medical attention means he will likely never fully recover. “In fact it got much worse,” Adel Fahmy said, “mainly because of his first month inside the Scorpion prison, sleeping on concrete ground in very cold weather and handcuffed all the time.”
Prosecutors have shown the judge material taken from the equipment found with the men at the time at their arrest including grainy footage of sheep, an international pop song and a documentary about soccer in Egypt. The evidence was filtered to prove that the Al Jazeera team had done interviews with pro-Morsi supporters while leaving out their conversations with people who back the current government.
At the most recent court hearing, the judge heard mostly from defence lawyers representing pro-Morsi activists who are being tried alongside the journalists. But Mr. Fahmy was allowed eight minutes to make a last plea for freedom.
Prosecutors have argued that the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network is responsible for ruining the Arab world, including Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria.
“Mohamed said there is no channel in the world or any media network, capable of ruining a country, that this is nonsense and it’s silly,” Adel Fahmy said. “Then he told the judge that [he and his colleagues] are objective journalists, and they are professional and award-winning, and they would never do anything to jeopardize their reputation because what the journalist owns is his name.”