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Canadian, Egyptian foreign ministers discuss case of jailed Canadian journalist

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says he is reaching out to Egypt to persuade its government to get involved in resolving an escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas.

BLAIR GABLE/REUTERS

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird raised Mohamed Fahmy's case during a phone call with Egypt's new foreign minister, amid hope that diplomatic pressure might help secure the Canadian journalist's release.

A government-issued summary of Mr. Baird's call with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the conversation focused on how Cairo might contribute to ending Hamas-led rocket attacks on Israel. Mr. Baird also took the opportunity to raise unspecified "consular matters" with his Egyptian counterpart, according to the summary.

A spokesperson for Mr. Baird confirmed that Mr. Fahmy's imprisonment was discussed but refused to provide details on the conversation. "The minister did raise Mr. Fahmy's case during his discussion with his Egyptian counterpart," Adam Hodge wrote in an e-mail. "As it was a private conversation about a consular matter, we cannot provide further details."

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Mr. Fahmy came to Canada with his family about two decades ago and holds both Canadian and Egyptian citizenship. In the months before his arrest, he was serving as the Cairo bureau chief for Al Jazeera English, which is owned by the government of Qatar. Qatar is supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party was ousted in a coup last year by the Egyptian military.

Last month, an Egyptian court convicted Mr. Fahmy of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to broadcast false news reports. Mr. Fahmy and his colleague, Australian reporter Peter Greste, were each sentenced to seven years in prison, while their Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed received a 10-year sentence. The trial was widely denounced by human-rights and media-advocacy groups.

Mr. Fahmy released a statement on Monday through his family, saying his imprisonment has left him and his colleagues "more determined than ever" to fight for freedom of speech. He also raised concerns about recent sentences handed out to journalists in Myanmar and Iran.

Ottawa has been accused of not doing enough to advocate publicly for Mr. Fahmy's release, amid more vocal criticism from the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. Mr. Baird has defended his government's approach, saying Canada's quiet efforts are more effective than "bullhorn diplomacy."

Sherif Fahmy, Mr. Fahmy's brother, said on Monday that he was encouraged to hear the case was raised during Mr. Baird's phone call but added that he's seen little progress since his brother's conviction.

He said his family has received the same response from the government every time they raise questions about the way Mr. Fahmy's case has been handled. "But once the criticism stops no one speaks to us, no one tries to reassure us that they're doing something," Sherif Fahmy said in a phone interview. "So we don't know if they're telling us this so we can stop the criticism, or they're actually doing something."

He added that he is holding out some hope that his brother will be among those pardoned at the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, in late July. "The protocol in Egypt is one where on the first day of the feast, the president issues a presidential pardon for a specific number of prisoners," he said. "We just hope that Mohamed's name is going to be on that list."

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Mr. Fahmy was arrested last December and has been held in prison for nearly 200 days.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Kim Mackrael has been a reporter for The Globe and Mail since 2011. She joined the Ottawa bureau Sept. 2012. More

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