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The Globe and Mail

Ottawa makes last-minute diplomatic push ahead of Fahmy trial

In this Saturday, May 3, 2014 file photo, Canadian-Egyptian acting Al-Jazeera bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy talks to the judge in a courthouse near Tora prison along with several other defendants during their trial on terror charges in Cairo, Egypt. On Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015, court officials said the retrial of two detained Al-Jazeera English journalists will begin on Feb. 12 in a case widely dismissed by rights groups as a sham. Their colleague Peter Greste was released earlier this month and deported to Australia.

Hamada Elrasam/The Associated Press

Update: Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy has been ordered released on bail. Read latest here.

Ottawa launched a flurry of last-minute diplomacy in the lead-up to Thursday's retrial of jailed Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy in Cairo.

Staff from the Prime Minister's Office called the Egyptian ambassador in to discuss Mr. Fahmy's case in Ottawa on Tuesday, and an Egyptian government official said Canada's ambassador to Egypt met with that country's public prosecutor on Wednesday.

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The Egyptian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Canadian diplomats also reached out to the Egyptian presidency on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of arranging a call between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister confirmed that senior PMO staff met with Egypt's ambassador this week, but declined to comment on the prospect of a phone call between Mr. Harper and Mr. el-Sissi.

Consular Affairs Minister Lynne Yelich also sent a letter to Egypt's Foreign Minister after a phone call earlier this week to discuss Mr. Fahmy's case, the Egyptian official said.

Mr. Fahmy, a former dual Canadian-Egyptian national, was expected to have been deported to Canada last week under a presidential decree allowing the deportation of foreigners being held in Egyptian jails. The journalist had renounced his Egyptian citizenship in order to qualify for deportation, but he remains behind bars despite assurances last week that his release was "imminent."

On Wednesday, Mr. Fahmy's family issued a call for Mr. Harper to intervene personally in the case ahead of Thursday's retrial.

"We are asking Prime Minister Harper to initiate personal, meaningful dialogue with President el-Sissi today, by telephone, before Mohamed's retrial begins," Mr. Fahmy's brother, Adel, said in a statement.

Mr. Fahmy and his Egyptian producer, Baher Mohamed, will be retried on Thursday after an appeal against their sentencing was upheld by the Supreme Court last month. The two Al Jazeera journalists face charges of "spreading false news" and "aiding a terrorist organization."

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Their colleague Peter Greste was freed and deported to Australia on Feb. 1.

"We were shocked by the news that [Mr. Fahmy] would have to be retried as we have assurances from the Canadian government and embassy that he would be released," Mr. Fahmy's fiancée, Marwa Omara, told The Globe and Mail. "We've called many times for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to intervene like the Australian President did, but nothing. So we're very disappointed with the Canadian government."

Ms. Omara said Mr. Fahmy is disappointed that he is now being retried after having given up his Egyptian citizenship, something she said he chose to do primarily for her and his parents. "This is a very hard and painful situation we're in," Ms. Omara said.

Mr. Greste and Mr. Fahmy were originally sentenced to seven years imprisonment by notorious Egyptian judge Nagy Shehata on charges of producing biased news in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government labels a terrorist organization. Mr. Mohamed was sentenced to 10 years on the same charges, aggravated by the possession of a bullet casing.

Mr. Fahmy's brother, Adel, said family members are not holding their breath for the results of Thursday's trial. "We won't believe anything we hear unless he's on a flight back to Canada," he said.

When former foreign minister John Baird was in Cairo, Mr. Fahmy's brother said, he made an "unacceptable diplomatic error" in proclaiming publicly that Mr. Fahmy would not be retried in Canada if he were deported.

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"This is not just about Mohamed, it's about all innocent Canadians who could find themselves in prison in the Middle East or elsewhere," he said. "All we've seen is mistakes and mild rhetoric – this does not portray the government as one that stands for free expression. … A conservative approach by the government at a time of such urgency has failed us and left Mohamed behind bars for perhaps another year as this retrial continues."

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