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Politics Canadian wife of Egypt detainee anguished over mass death sentences

Sarah Attia, wife of Khaled Al-Qazzazz, detained without charges in Egypt for the past nine months, attends a news conference in Ottawa on April 29, 2014.

ADRIAN WYLD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

As an Egyptian court was handing death sentences this week to more than 680 people – many of them supporters of former president Mohammed Morsi – the husband of a Canadian woman was spending his 300th day behind bars in Cairo.

Khaled Al-Qazzaz, a permanent resident of Canada who met Sarah Attia when the two were studying chemical engineering at the University of Toronto, marked the unfortunate anniversary Monday in his cell in the notorious Scorpion wing of the al-Aqrab prison. Mr. Al-Qazzaz worked for Mr. Morsi but he has never been charged with a crime.

Ms. Attia, who is back in Canada with the couple's four children, told reporters Tuesday of the anguish she felt when she saw the news of the mass sentencing. Most of those who are now looking at capital punishment were charged as part of a political crackdown, she said.

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"When I saw the pictures of the mothers, the wives [of those who had been sentenced] and just how anguished they were and crying and fainting, I just couldn't help but think that I could be in that situation any time," Ms. Attia said.

Monday's verdicts came a month after the same judge condemned 529 other people to death for similar offences – 37 of those sentences have since been upheld, while the rest have been commuted to life imprisonment.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird travelled to Egypt on the Easter weekend. On that visit, the minister raised the cases of Mr. Al-Qazzaz and Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, who has been held with two of his colleagues in a Cairo prison since late December.

Ms. Attia said she was grateful for Mr. Baird's intervention.

"Minister Baird's visit to Egypt promoted strengthening co-operation with the Egyptian regime. This relationship must be first used to defend Canadian families like my own," she said. "My children want their father home. The Canadian government has a moral responsibility to pressure the Egyptian regime to release Khaled immediately and unconditionally."

When she spoke with The Globe and Mail three weeks ago, Ms. Attia said her stay in Canada would be temporary because she could not abandon her husband to his windowless cell. But she is having to reconsider that plan after Egyptian media accused her of trying to promote sympathy in Canada for his case.

"This really adds increasing risk on myself," Ms. Attia said. "So before I go back to Cairo, I am going to be weighing that all out."

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