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

HANDOUT/THE CANADIAN PRESS

It has become abundantly clear that Egypt's military rulers are dead set on silencing their political opponents. The sight of deposed Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi in a soundproof prisoner's box at his trial this week brings into sharp relief how the country's courts of justice have been transformed into theatres of the absurd.

"I am the President of the Republic. How can I be kept in a dump for weeks?" Mr. Morsi shouted when his microphone was momentarily turned on at his trial, where he faces apparently trumped-up charges of colluding with foreign powers and murder. It's hardly a consolation, but he's not alone. The military's list of enemies has expanded well beyond the usual targets in the Muslim Brotherhood to encompass pretty much anyone who dares question the authority of the ruling generals – even if that's their job.

This week Egypt's chief prosecutor referred 20 journalists from the Al-Jazeera TV network to stand trial, alleging that they operate as a terror cell by spreading false news and information that could endanger national security. The group is made up mostly of Egyptians, but includes a handful of foreigners. Mohamed Fahmy, a dual Canadian-Egyptian citizen, is among them.

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To be clear: There is absolutely no evidence that Mr. Fahmy and his colleagues were doing anything other than their jobs when they were arrested. Al-Jazeera operates under a full licence in Egypt. The journalists were rounded up on Dec. 29 in a Cairo hotel room where they had been working ever since the Egyptian government raided Al-Jazeera's offices. Mr. Fahmy, the network's Cairo bureau chief, is a seasoned professional – having worked for the New York Times and CNN before moving to Egypt in 2011.

But it's no secret that the ruling generals view Al-Jazeera as one of their enemies, and as sympathetic to the democratic protesters who continue to agitate for reform. Mr. Fahmy's fate is now in the hands of an arbitrary justice system. He is obviously a small pawn in a much bigger game. Unfortunately, Canada doesn't have the kind of clout required to make a difference for the millions of Egyptians whose human rights continue to suffer under military rule.

But Ottawa can make a difference for Mr. Fahmy, by doing whatever it takes to set him free.

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