Is dual citizenship keeping Canadian journalist in Egyptian jail?
UPDATED: This post, originally published on Feb. 28, has been updated to reflect the sentencing of Mohamed Fahmy on June 23.
Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy has been imprisoned in Egypt since December 29, and this week was sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of obstructing Egypt’s national security and involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood.
And now, more than a day after Fahmy’s sentence came down, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has yet to say more than that he is “troubled.” Canada has stopped short of condemnation or calling for the release of Fahmy, who came to Canada with his family in 1991 but has been working as a journalist in the Middle East for several years.
Facing an onslaught of criticism over his relative silence on the Fahmy’s case, Baird said in a radio interview Tuesday morning the journalist’s dual Canadian-Egyptian citizenship did make matter “somewhat more complicated.”
“Obviously a significant complexity in this is that he’s not just a citizen of Canada, but 11 years ago he left and returned to the region. And now, of course, when you’re a citizen of Egypt, you’re subject to Egyptian law,” Baird told Ottawa’s CFRA.
Baird’s office told Global News Fahmy’s case is a “consular issue” and referred further questions to Lynne Yelich, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Consular Services.
Yelich’s press secretary Saro Khatchadourian sent Global News an outline of “high-level” meetings between Canadian and Egyptian officials since January (see below).
Baird said in February that he had raised concerns with authorities in Egypt but faced some obstacles in getting him released.
“Obviously it’s demonstrably different from the previous case where there was two Canadians who were incarcerated but not facing any charges,” Baird said in a clip released on YouTube by Al Jazeera English.
The incident Baird referred to was the detainment of Canadian filmmaker John Greyson and doctor Tarek Loubani, who were arrested in Cairo on Aug. 16. The Canadian government was aggressive in fighting for their release.
The appearance of offered in their case sits in stark contrast to Fahmy’s, that has some wondering why can’t Ottawa intervene similarly in this case.
The problem of citizenship
Because Greyson and Loubani were Canadian citizens and not Egpytians, the Canadian government was able to act quickly and have them released.
Fahmy, whose family has been in Canada for more than 20 years, holds Egyptian citizenship, as well, which Baird says complicates things for the Canadian government.
“This is a challenge when you have people that are dual nationals, that have Canadian citizenship and the citizenship of another country,” Baird said in the video.
But some say that shouldn’t affect the government’s ability to intervene.
“I don’t think Mr. Baird is being misleading when he says it complicates thing; I think it does to a certain extent,” said Lorne Waldman, an immigration and human rights lawyer in Toronto. “But it hasn’t prevented Canada in many other cases from intervening and it shouldn’t prevent Canada from expressing its concern in this case.”
Waldman drew comparisons to the Maher Arar case from over a decade ago, saying that Canada was able to successfully intervene then, despite Arar’s Canadian-Syrian citizenship.
So what impact does dual citizenship have on Fahmy’s chances of being released to Canada? It could mean that to Egyptian authorities, his Canadian citizenship doesn’t mean anything, immigration lawyer Joel Guberman explained.
“The Egyptians are looking at him as an Egyptian, because that is what he is,” he said. “Canada can’t ask if he can be returned to his home country, because he is already in his home country.”
“The dual-nationality affects the perception in the eyes of Egypt as to the right of Canada to intervene,” Waldman explained. But “there have been a lot of situations like this, and Canada has a right to intervene anyway.”
Fahmy’s brother has said the family considers itself Canadian, pays Canadian taxes and that Fahmy hasn’t had an Egyptian passport in years.
But Guberman says Fahmy would need to renounce his Egyptian citizenship in order for Canadian government to have any leverage in the matter. That may not be the easiest thing to do while sitting in a jail cell. That leaves Fahmy awaiting trial, which has been adjourned until March 5.
Fahmy’s colleague Baher Mohamed is Egyptian. The third journalist, Peter Greste, is Australian. Hassan El-Laithy, the Egyptian ambassador to Australia, has said he sympathizes with Greste’s loved ones but insists the legal process in Egypt must be followed before Australia can take any action.
“In accordance with his wishes, we communicate regularly with Mr. Fahmy’s family and continue to advocate for his well-being.”
List of meetings between Ministers Baird or Yelich and Egyptian officials since January:
- January 2014: Minister Baird raised the case with the Egyptian Foreign Minister
- March 2014: Minister Yelich raised the case with the Egyptian Foreign Minister
- April 2014: Minister Baird raised the case with the Egyptian Foreign Minister
- April 2014: Minister Baird met with Mr. Fahmy’s family in Egypt
- May 2014: Canada’s Ambassador to Egypt met with the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs in Cairo, while the Egyptian Ambassador to Canada was summoned in Ottawa
- June 2014: Canada’s Ambassador to Egypt met with the Assistant Minister for the Americas to relay Canada’s disappointment regarding the judicial process which led to the verdict
- June 2014: Minister Yelich contacted Egypt’s Foreign Minister to convey Canada’s disappointment regarding the judicial process which led to the verdict
- June 2014: Egypt’s Ambassador in Ottawa was summoned by senior Canadian officials to convey Canada’s disappointment regarding the judicial process which led to the verdict
With files from Adam Hearty and Nick Logan
© Shaw Media, 2014