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Journalists press Ottawa to help free Canadian jailed in Egypt

Owen Watson, executive producer for newsgathering at Al Jazeera English, speaks during a press conference at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto on Feb. 6, 2014.

KEVIN VAN PAASSEN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

A coalition of journalists is urging Canada's government to step up pressure on Egyptian officials to release three journalists, including a Canadian, who have been jailed in Egypt for more than a month.

A joint statement from eight organizations, including Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, calls for the "immediate and unconditional release" of Mohamed Fahmy, a 40-year-old Canadian journalist working for Al Jazeera English in Cairo, and two of his colleagues.

At a news conference in Toronto on Thursday, groups representing journalists joined with filmmaker John Greyson, who was himself jailed for 50 days in Egypt last fall, calling the arrests an attack on free expression and pressing the federal government to be more vocal in lobbying for the journalists' release.

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"In Mohamed's case, the Canadian government has done so little, as we've heard, merely repeating platitudes about consular services," Mr. Greyson said. "Mohamed deserves the same urgent response from our government that our case received."

Mr. Fahmy, Australian reporter Peter Greste and Egyptian Al Jazeera cameraman Baher Mohamed are charged with spreading false news and aiding the banned Muslim Brotherhood, facing up to 15 years in jail if convicted. Earlier this week, U.S. President Barack Obama called for their release. So far, Canadian officials have visited Mr. Fahmy regularly in prison, but have not publicly demanded he be set free because he is also an Egyptian citizen.

Al Jazeera executive producer for newsgathering Owen Watson said the news channel is "not optimistic" that Mr. Fahmy and Mr. Mohamed's situation is improving. "These men are not guilty of any charge. They were just doing their job," he said.

Canadian officials are keeping in contact with Mr. Fahmy's lawyer and family. "Senior Canadian officials have raised his case with Egyptian authorities," said Foreign Affairs spokesperson Jean-Bruno Villeneuve, declining to give further details for privacy reasons.

At Thursday's news conference, The Globe and Mail's editor-in-chief, John Stackhouse, said Mr. Fahmy deserves Canada's full support. "It has been suggested that Mohamed Fahmy is a hyphenated Canadian and therefore should be treated differently by our government. A Canadian is a Canadian, and it is heartening to learn that ‎he is being given consular access, which he deserves," he said.

A recent transfer to a lower-security cell has improved conditions for Mr. Fahmy, his family says. But Mr. Greyson worries he is still enduring serious hardship.

"John Baird and Stephen Harper, you can make a difference, as you did in our case," Mr. Greyson said. "In Mohamed's words, make some noise."

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With a report from Gloria Galloway

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About the Author
Banking Reporter

James Bradshaw is banking reporter for the Report on Business. He covered media from 2014 to 2016, and higher education from 2010 to 2014. Prior to that, he worked as a cultural reporter for Globe Arts, and has written for both the Toronto section and the editorial page. More

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