WATCH: Freedom of the press was dealt a serious blow on Monday with the sentencing of three Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt. Among them was Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy. Mike Drolet reports.
Sherif Fahmy used his brother Mohamed Fahmy’s Twitter account to detail the Egyptian-Canadian journalist’s detention and trial, and often posted messages on behalf of his imprisoned brother.
But, when an Egyptian court convicted Fahmy and his Al Jazeera colleagues Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed on Monday after 177 days in detention, Sherif posted his own message and directed harsh criticism at the Canadian government.
@pmharper I hold you responsible for leaving my brother to rotten in Egyptian prison. Was a call or a public statement that difficult?
— Mohamed Fadel Fahmy (@Repent11) June 23, 2014
— Sean Mallen (@SMallenGlobal) June 23, 2014
The Canadian government has remained relatively silent on Fahmy’s case, especially compared to the attention that was paid to the arrests of Canadians John Greyson and Tarek Loubani in Egypt last summer.
Greyson, a filmmaker, and Loubani, an emergency doctor, were freed after 50 days in Egypt’s notorious Tora prison — where Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed are all being held — thanks in part to negotiations between Canadian officials and the Egyptian government.
The court sentenced Fahmy and Greste, from Australia, to seven years in prison, while Mohamed, an Egyptian, got a 10-year sentence. The trio were convicted of assisting the Muslim Brotherhood, the former democratically-elected but now banned organization that was overthrown last July, and reporting false news. Mohamed got an additional three years tacked on his sentence for possession of ammunition.
Sherif was far from the only one to take to the social media platform to criticize Harper and his government or call on them to make a bigger effort to secure Fahmy’s release.
— Mondee Redman (@MondeeRedman) June 23, 2014
— صباح حمامو (@Hamamou) June 23, 2014
— Sandro Stealth (@mutalabala) June 23, 2014
Regardless of fact that Mohammed Fahmy has dual citizenship, Canada needs to make strong arguments for Press Freedom @pmharper FreeAJStaff
— Jude Fleming (@flemingjude) June 23, 2014
— sounka (@sounkas) June 23, 2014
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Consular Services Lynne Yelich issued a statement on the conviction later Monday morning, expressing Canada’s “disappointment” following the conviction.
Canada is very disappointed with the verdict in the case of Mohamed Fahmy. http://t.co/DWptZtcbZ5 1/2
— Lynne Yelich (@Lynne_Yelich) June 23, 2014
Regarding this case, I will be contacting my Egyptian counterpart directly to express Canada’s concern. 2/2
— Lynne Yelich (@Lynne_Yelich) June 23, 2014
“Canada calls on the Egyptian government to protect the rights of all individuals, including journalists, in keeping with the spirit of Egypt’s new constitution and the desire of all Egyptians to build a fully democratic country,” Yelich said in her statement.
Neither Harper nor Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird have commented on the conviction of Fahmy, who moved to Canada with his family in 1991, although Baird’s official Twitter account retweeted Yelich’s message.
World leaders who have spoken out include U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who called the sentencing “chilling and draconian,” and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pilay, who said, “It is not a crime to carry a camera, or to try to report various points of views about events. … It is not a crime to criticize the authorities, or to interview people who hold unpopular views.”
Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based news network Fahmy works for, has been at the helm of an aggressive social media campaign to call for the release of the three journalists, using the Twitter hashtag #FreeAJStaff. Journalists, media outlets, and press freedom and human rights organizations have all joined in.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) June 23, 2014
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) June 23, 2014
— Sarah Vaughan-Brown (@svaughanbrown) June 23, 2014
— HuffPost Media (@HuffPostMedia) June 23, 2014
— Amnesty UK (@AmnestyUK) June 23, 2014
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression joined the chorus of organizations not only condemning the conviction, but also questioning the Canadian government’s silence on the case.
“While Australian authorities have been extremely vocal in calling for the release of Greste, there has been less public support for Fahmy’s release from Canadian officials. This is a marked shift from the strong public stance the federal government took in calling for the release of John Greyson and Tarek Loubani, detained in Egypt in 2013,” CJFE said in a statement released Monday afternoon.
CJFE also directed condemnation at the Egyptian government and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
“This conviction serves as a direct attack on press freedom in Egypt,” CJFE Executive Director Tom Henheffer said. “This is a corrupt system making a political move to warn other journalists and Egyptian citizens that honest and objective reporting on the country’s political climate will not be tolerated.”
Also joining the fray is Canadian journalist Tony Burman, who served as the head of Al Jazeera English from 2008 to 2010 and head of strategy for the Americas in 2010-2011.
Speaking to Global News on Monday, Burman called the Canadian government silence “worrisome,” noting U.S., U.K. and Australian government reaction to the case.
“The absence of the highest level of intervention, on behalf of the Canadian government has been lamentable. But, there is a chance for reversal,” he said. “It’s now time for Canada’s prime minister to indicate to Egypt that enough is enough.”
He said the trial showed how the Egyptian regime doesn’t “intend to tolerate any sort of dissent or any sort of honest reporting of their activities.
“There are dozens of Egyptian local journalists in jail and I think this is a warning to them all… that this is a state that will tolerate no openness,” Burman said. “For such an important country as Egypt… that is a sad state of affairs.”
© Shaw Media, 2014