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Mohamed Fahmy says Canada should have done more for him

Fahmy says Ottawa should have pursued his release ‘from day one’

Josh Dehaas, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, October 7, 2015 3:49PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 7, 2015 5:08PM EDT

Mohamed Fahmy told an audience in London that he believes the Canadian government should have put more pressure on the Egyptian government to release him from prison “from day one.”

Fahmy said he initially “didn’t want to believe it when I was in my cell that the government wasn’t doing their best.” But after his release, he realized his family and others “had a reason for their critique” of the Harper government’s efforts.

“They could have done a more aggressive approach,” said the Al Jazeera journalist, who was released on Sept. 23 after a pardon from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for convictions on charges including terrorism that were widely seen as false and politically motivated.

 Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, left, with his lawyer Amal Clooney speak at the Frontline Club in London, on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. (AP / Tim Ireland)

Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy speaks at the Frontline Club in London, on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. (AP / Tim Ireland)

“The Australian prime minister for example, Mr. Tony Abbott, called Sisi three times on the phone to ask for (fellow journalist Peter Greste’s) release,” Fahmy said.

“And then my family and friends started the Harper Call Egypt (social media) campaign that was quite successful.”

Fahmy said he doesn’t know whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper ever telephoned Sisi, adding, “I don’t think he did.”

His lawyer, Amal Clooney, told the audience that “international pressure” appears to have helped convince Sisi to pardon Fahmy. After all, he was released just one day before Sisi was flying to New York for a speech at the United Nations.

“We also have to thank the Canadian government and other governments that have raised this — the U.S. State Department and others,” she added.

Still, Clooney agreed that Canada’s government could have done more.

Although she said the ambassador on the ground in Egypt “really used exceptional efforts to support the case,” former Foreign Minister John Baird’s comments last year about needing to avoid “bullhorn diplomacy” left her asking whether there was “quiet diplomacy” happening, or if “there was nothing really going on.”

“You wouldn’t expect the prime minister to say ‘here’s what I said to President Sisi on the phone,’ but you might have expected more confirmations of phone calls having taken place,” Clooney added.

Fahmy said he believes governments faced with these situations should intervene “from day one, from the most senior level of officials, because any chances of extracting a prisoner are best before it’s referred to trial.”

“Once it goes into the trial phase,” he said, “it’s really hard for the president to extract you.”

“I do believe that governments should be much faster in intervening (and) not wait for junior ministers or embassy councillor staff to come in,” Fahmy added. “This is just a little bit of what I want to talk about in Ottawa.”

Fahmy and two of his Al Jazeera colleagues, Australian correspondent Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, were arrested on Dec. 29, 2013 and charged with aiding the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group, which governed Egypt before Sisi took over in a coup.

All three men were convicted. Greste was released in February and returned to Australia. Mohamed was released along with Fahmy in September.

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