Egypt’s President has rejected calls from outraged Western governments to pardon three Al Jazeera journalists, including Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, who were sentenced by a Cairo court to heavy jail terms in a case widely seen as an assault on press freedom.
Mr. Fahmy told his family that he and his two imprisoned colleagues, one Australian and the other Egyptian, cannot pin their hopes on an appeal in the Egyptian judicial system and urged the international community to find another way to secure their release.
The conviction of the journalists prompted outrage from the foreign ministers of Australia, Britain and the United States, but received a more tepid response from Canada. When asked Tuesday on Ottawa’s CFRA News Talk Radio whether he will join other Western leaders to press for a pardon for Mr. Fahmy, who holds both Canadian and Egyptian citizenship, Foreign Minister John Baird responded: “Sure.”
As for Canada’s comparatively muted defence of the journalists, Mr. Baird said critics would have accused the government of “practising bullhorn diplomacy” if it had been “loud and vocal.”
Unlike the leaders of other countries, including U.S. President Barack Obama, Canada’s federal Conservative government has never demanded the release of the Al Jazeera journalists. Mr. Baird refused interview requests this week from The Globe and Mail.
The court sentenced Mr. Fahmy and an Australian reporter, Peter Greste, to seven years in prison. A third journalist, Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, received a 10-year sentence.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on Tuesday ruled out pardoning them or commuting their sentence, casting his decision as a way of preserving the court’s independence and standing up to outside pressure.
“We will not interfere in judicial matters because the Egyptian judiciary is an independent and exalted judiciary,” Mr. el-Sissi, a former military chief, told a military graduation ceremony 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.
The Al Jazeera journalists were found guilty Monday on the terrorism-related charges of supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood, but they say they were simply doing their jobs as journalists and reporting on the short-lived Brotherhood-led government that was ousted by then-general el-Sissi in 2013.
Mr. Fahmy’s parents and brother visited him Tuesday.
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 at the sentence, said his brother. “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,” said Mr. Baird, “but obviously the government of Qatar has a close relationship.”
Tom Henheffer, the executive director of the 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,” said Mr. Henheffer. “It’s a legitimate news outlet.”
The parents of Mr. Greste said they were “shattered by the verdict.”
“This is a very dark time, not only for our family but for journalism generally,” Juris Greste told reporters during an emotional news conference with his wife, Lois. “We are devastated, shocked and dismayed at this finding.”
With a report from Associated Press