Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy is taking his first breaths of freedom in more than 400 days, but his supporters say he must quickly be deported to Canada from Egypt because it is too risky to gamble his fate on another court decision.
Now that Mr. Fahmy, the former bureau chief for Al Jazeera's English network in Cairo, has been released on bail, he says he is personally "taking on the battle" against those who would keep him behind bars.
He chose to spend Friday, his first day at large, in the sunny courtyard of Cairo's Marriott Hotel with his fiancée, Marwa Omara, relishing the sight of sky and the absence of prison guards. It was in a room of the same hotel that he was arrested on Dec. 29, 2013.
Mr. Fahmy was convicted last June, along with Australian reporter Peter Greste and Egyptian cameraman Baher Mohamed, of "spreading false news" to help the banned Muslim Brotherhood. The trial was widely considered to be a sham. An appeal court overturned that conviction in January and, on Feb. 1 Mr. Greste was deported. But Mr. Fahmy and Mr. Mohamed have been ordered to be retried.
Mr. Fahmy refused to be quoted at length on Friday. But he was defiant about his case and the need to keep fighting. He told The Globe and Mail he believes a standard must be set for Canada on helping citizens detained by authoritarian governments abroad. And he echoed his family's call for the Canadian government, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in particular, to do more to pressure the Egyptians for his full release.
Tarek Loubani, a Canadian physician who was held in an Egyptian prison for seven weeks in 2013 and has campaigned for Mr. Fahmy's release, said Mr. Harper must call Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi on behalf of the Canadian journalist.
"This is clearly a political trial," Mr. Loubani said. "Having it wind through a corrupt judicial system is not going to come up with anything good."
After Mr. Fahmy was granted bail on Thursday, Egyptian authorities said he would not be released until Saturday. Then, at 3 a.m. Friday, guards told him orders had come from on high and he was to be freed immediately. Mr. Fahmy walked out of a Cairo police station at 5 a.m. after his family paid bail of $41,000. He must check in daily at a police station until the the next session of his retrial on February 23. He is on an official no-fly list and cannot leave Egypt.
Mr. Fahmy's Egyptian colleague, Baher Mohamed, was also released from a police station on bail.
Mr. Fahmy said he still believes his best hope lies in deportation to Canada. That deportation was made possible by a special decree issued in November by Mr. el-Sissi which allowed the expulsion of foreigners held in Egyptian prisons.
Mr. Fahmy, who came to Canada with his family when he was 17 and took out Canadian citizenship, was a dual citizen of both countries at the time of his arrest. He reluctantly gave up his Egyptian citizenship to qualify to be deported.
But the decree states that the Egyptian President "may agree to deliver the defendants and transfer the sentenced to their own countries, either for their trial or the execution of their sentence."
Mr. Fahmy's supporters say Canada cannot agree to sentence him in this country for a crime that does not exist here. Nor can the Canadian government agree to uphold a verdict it does not accept.
Mr. Greste was deported after the original conviction had been overturned, so Australia did not have to execute a sentence. If Mr. Fahmy is retried and again found guilty, his supporters say Canada may not have the same option.
On the other hand, Ferry de Kerckhove, a University of Ottawa professor who previously served as Canada's ambassador to Egypt, said the optics of freeing Mr. Fahmy while his next hearing is still looming present a problem for the Egyptian government.
"The issue is always the same in Egypt," Prof. de Kerckhove said. "You have to come down with a legal decision that makes the judiciary at least look independent in providing the answer."
If the Al Jazeera journalists are retried, Loubani said, they could end up in prison for a very long time and Canada must do everything in its power to get Mr. Fahmy out of Egypt before that happens.
Whether the Egyptians are sensitive about being seen as succumbing to international pressure or not, they are weak internationally, Mr. Loubani said. "They do not have the capability to withstand a full Canadian diplomatic assault."
With a report from Kim Mackrael in Ottawa