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Obama ramps up pressure on Egypt to free journalists, including Canadian

Mohamed Fahmy, left, the Egyptian-Canadian journalist being detained in Cairo, is shown in a handout photo.

HANDOUT/THE CANADIAN PRESS

U.S. President Barack Obama is calling for the release of three journalists, including a Canadian, who have been imprisoned in Egypt for more than a month. But the Canadian government is making no similar public demands.

Mohamed Fahmy, a 40-year-old Canadian who is the English-language bureau chief in Egypt for the Qatar-based television network Al Jazeera, and two of his colleagues have been charged with spreading false news and aiding the banned Muslim Brotherhood. They are expected to be tried in the coming weeks and, if convicted, could face up to 15 years in jail.

"The restrictions on freedom of expression in Egypt are a concern, and that includes the targeting of Egyptian and foreign journalists and academics simply for expressing their views," Mr. Obama's spokesman Jay Carney said this week. "These figures, regardless of affiliation, should be protected and permitted to do their jobs freely in Egypt."

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The United Nations has also called for the journalists' release. The Australian government has been actively petitioning to free Peter Greste, an Australian reporter who was arrested along with Mr. Fahmy and Egyptian cameraman Baher Mohamed on Dec. 29 at a Cairo hotel. And journalists around the world have written letters and staged protests in support of the men.

When asked if there has been any intervention on Mr. Fahmy's behalf, a spokesman for the Canadian government said: "Canadian officials have raised this case with senior Egyptian officials and local authorities continue to be engaged."

But Mr. Fahmy's family says they are unaware of any demand by the Canadian government for the release of the journalist who came to this country with his parents and brothers about 20 years ago and holds both Canadian and Egyptian citizenship.

Canadian consular officials in Egypt have visited Mr. Fahmy every couple of weeks, his brother, Sherif Fahmy, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. They also accompanied the Fahmy family on a prison visit earlier in the day, he said, and have been present during interrogations.

But the Canadians have told the Fahmy family that Canada can do nothing get Mr. Fahmy out of prison because he is being held in a country that also considers him to be a citizen, said his brother. They say "their hands are tied," he said. "But that doesn't prevent them from coming out and speaking in the media at least voicing concerns about Mohamed."

The Conservative government was advised last year by senior bureaucrats to consider limiting consular assistance for Canadians with dual citizenship who travel on a foreign passport or those who have lived outside the country for a long period of time.

Mr. Fahmy had, until recently, been held in the notorious Scorpion unit of the Tora prison, a high-security facility that houses the country's high-profile political prisoners. He was recently transferred to a less secure lockup where the conditions are much better, said his brother, and he is now sharing a cell with the other two Al Jazeera employees.

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Sherif Fahmy said his brother's lawyer has assured his parents, who travelled to Egypt from their home in Montreal to be with their son, that he is optimistic Mohamed will beat the charges.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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