Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Canadian Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy released on bail in Egypt

Mohamed Fahmy, the Al Jazeera journalist jailed in Egypt for a year, has been released on $41,000 bail. Fahmy was born in Egypt but is a Canadian citizen. He gave up his Egyptian citizenship as part of a deal that was supposed to end in his release.

 A retrial was ordered for three Al Jazeera journalists, Fahmy, Baher Mohammed, and Peter Greste, an Australian. Greste was released and returned back to Australia on February 1. In the case of Greste, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott intervened directly calling Egyptian president el-Sissi three times. There have been demands that Stephen Harper also intervene personally beyond sending a letter. Marc Garneau a Liberal MP has been pushing for Harper to phone el-Sissi: ""I don't think there has been a voice conversation, and I think that's particularly significant. I understand that there are efforts now being made to have the prime minister speak to President el-Sisi over the telephone, and that's long overdue..I think that for the Egyptian president to be contacted by the prime minister of Canada, directly over the phone and talking to him, has a significantly greater impact than a letter."" Harper maintains that the government has been active at all levels:" When asked about Canada's efforts on Fahmy's case, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday that his government had "been in contact with Egyptian authorities at all levels, including my level.""We will continue to press for his release. And we do remain optimistic that this case will be resolved," "

 At the hearing at which bail was granted to Fahmy the retrial was set to resume on February 23. The family and Canadian government officials all thought that Fahmy would be released shortly after the release of Greste. Liberal MP Marc Garneau said on Twitter and in a CBC interview: ""Good news, but pressure must be maintained for full release..I understand that when you're accused of terrorism, it's unusual to get bail, so I think that is an indication that some of the pressure is working, coming from all quarters."" However, eleven other defendants in the case including Baher Mohammed were also released on bail and all are accused of helping terrorism through support of the Muslim Brotherhood in various ways.

Even President el-Sissi regrets that Egypt jailed the three journalists. He told the German magazine Der Spiegel:""If I had been in office at the time, I would have wanted no further problems and would have asked them to leave the country," He regrets the controversy, recognizing, it seems, that while Fahmy and the others were convicted for damaging Egypt's international reputation, it is Egypt itself that has done more harm on that front because of the publicity and Western reaction surrounding the arrests." The prosecutor wanted to go ahead with retrial of all three. Prosecutors had argued against the deportation of Greste on the grounds it would look as if foreigners were getting special treatment. If Fahmy were released as well, this would only confirm this to be so.

Under Egyptian law, now that the retrial has started the court must retry the entire case. The judge does not even have the power to stop the process. Now that the trial has begun, President el-Sisi cannot use his power simply to deport Fahmy. It looks as if Fahmy will be stuck in Egypt for some time to come.

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