TORONTO – Freed journalist Mohamed Fahmy continued his criticism of the Stephen Harper government on Wednesday, saying the prime minister did not do enough to intervene and did not understand the “urgency” of his case.
Speaking with Global’s The Morning Show Fahmy, a former al-Jazeera journalist who was released from an Egyptian prison in September, discussed his case and called for more direct involvement from the office of the prime minister when Canadian nationals are detained in the Middle East.
“I joined the international chorus that was criticizing Mr. Harper’s mild approach when I was released on bail and I realized that indeed he wasn’t putting his full clout behind me,” said Fahmy.
“There are lessons to be learned from this case and the most important lesson is that due to the political turmoil in the Middle East there should be an immediate intervention from the prime minister directly to the president.”
Instead of directly intervening with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Fahmy said Harper turned the case over to lower-level members of his government.
“I believe [Harper] didn’t understand the urgency of the situation,” he said. “He delegated his responsibilities to junior ministers and ambassadors who really tried hard. But they didn’t have the clout to speak the President of Egypt immediately and I believe this should be implemented because right now the situation is very complicated in Egypt.”
Fahmy, 41, was working as the Cairo bureau chief for Al-Jazeera English when he was arrested in Egypt in 2013 with two colleagues, Baher Mohamed and Australian Peter Greste. He was eventually convicted of terror-related charges and sentenced to three years in prison in a widely condemned retrial this year for airing what an Egyptian court labelled “false news.”
Fahmy spoke about what it was like to see his Australian colleague freed and the bitterness of receiving “false hope” of being freed himself when then Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced his release was imminent.
“It was devastating. My wife quit her job. We were looking into flights. The ambassador of Canada is telling ‘What flight do you want to go back on? Do you want to take the midnight flight or the morning flight?” he said. “My mom brought my bags to where I was detained and I was prepared to come here to Toronto. I reserved a room at the Four Seasons for the press conference.”
“Can you imagine how that feels for a prisoner to find himself again sent back to court and go through this whole ordeal for six months while my colleague left to Australia.”
The 41-year-old, who arrived in Toronto on Sunday after Egypt’s President el-Sisi pardoned him, said he met with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on Monday and with NDP Leader Tom Mulcair on
Tuesday, but wasn’t endorsing anyone ahead of the Oct. 19 vote.
“I thanked them because they communicated directly with my parents, my lawyers and wife when I needed that the most. That really made a difference. At that time in Egypt we were just drowning we needed as much help as we could,” he said.
WATCH: Fahmy says John Baird committed a ‘diplomatic error’ during his trip to Egypt
Officials with the Harper government have said in the past the prime minister did speak with Egypt’s president and sent several letters on Fahmy’s behalf.
Fahmy spoke publicly for the first time since returning to Canada at a news conference hosted by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression at Ryerson University on Tuesday.
“There are no words to describe how it feels when you are wrongfully convicted and sitting in a cold cell infested with insects, nurturing a broken shoulder,” Fahmy explained. “Sitting in that prison cell, it was difficult not to feel betrayed and abandoned by Prime Minister Harper.”