Mohamed Fahmy says Canadian government could have done more to secure his release
'I didn't want to believe ... in my cell that the government wasn't doing their best,' journalist says
Freed Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy said on Wednesday that when he returns to Canada, he plans to talk to Ottawa about how the federal government can better protect its citizens in foreign countries when they face arrest.
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"I do believe that the Canadian government could have done more, they could have had a more aggressive approach," he said during a talk he gave with his lawyer, Amal Clooney, at the Frontline Club in London.
Fahmy spent more than 400 days in an Egyptian prison on widely denounced terrorism charges connected with his reporting work for Al-Jazeera's English network.
While incarcerated, Fahmy said he received excellent support from the Canadian consular team and ambassadors on the ground, but his family and other supporters were critical of the Canadian government for not taking sufficient action.
"I didn't want to believe it when I was in my cell that the government wasn't doing their best," Fahmy said.
But when he was released from prison on bail while awaiting a retrial, he said he realized the criticism was valid.
Fahmy: difficult to be in same prison as jihadists, see them celebrate Charlie Hebdo attacks, murders of James Foley & Stephen Sotloff <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/cbc?src=hash">#cbc</a>—@EMauroCBC
Fahmy, his family, Clooney and supporters from around the world called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the highest levels of the Canadian government to increase pressure on the Egyptian government to secure his release and have him deported to Canada.
The government "should be much faster in intervening immediately as it happens, and not wait for junior ministers or embassy consular staff to come in," Fahmy said. "It's very very important."
His ordeal finally ended on Sept. 23, when he was pardoned by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and released from prison.
Fahmy left Cairo Tuesday for the first time since his arrest in 2013 after his name was removed from a no-fly list. He is expected to travel to Toronto next, then to Vancouver, where he will teach journalism at the University of British Columbia.
Fahmy cited the case of his co-accused colleague Peter Greste, who was deported back home to Australia after then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott put pressure on the Egyptian president.
Abbott "had called Sisi three times on the phone to ask for Peter's release, then he called him to thank him, as far as I understand," Fahmy said.
"That was an amazing moment to see Peter deported," he said. "But ... you get these mixed emotions and 'why am I not on that plane?'"
When asked by the moderator whether Harper had ever called el-Sisi after Fahmy's family launched a #HarperCallEgypt social media campaign last February, Fahmy said he didn't know. Clooney said they knew there had been "communications."
After Fahmy was jailed for the second time in August after his retrial, Harper wrote a tweet saying, "Canada continues to call on Egypt for the immediate and full release of Mr. Fahmy, and full co-operation to facilitate his return home."
In February, the Prime Minister's Office said Harper had sent letters to el-Sisi but did not provide further details.
Fahmy says he and other Al Jaz colleagues in prison would do mock news shows/interviews w/ other inmates to get thru time behind bars <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/cbc?src=hash">#cbc</a>—@EMauroCBC
Fahmy said he would not endorse any party in the upcoming federal election, but plans on meeting Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and the NDP's Paul Dewar when he returns to Canada, and thanked them for their support. Before the election was called, both parties repeatedly called on Harper to do more to bring Fahmy back to Canada.
In a statement on Tuesday, Lynne Yelich, the minister of state for foreign affairs and consular services, said the Canadian government is pleased that Fahmy is now on his way home.
"Canada has worked tirelessly, at the highest levels, on Mr. Fahmy's behalf," she said. "We are grateful that his long ordeal is over."
On Wednesday, Fahmy also talked about the importance of working to free other journalists and bloggers jailed around the world. Last February, while out on bail in Cairo, he launched the Fahmy Foundation for a Free Press.
Fahmy says he is going to a Habs game on Oct 27-already bought the tickets, he says <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CBC?src=hash">#CBC</a>—@EMauroCBC