Mohamed Fahmy foundation created to help others imprisoned abroad

Mohamed Fahmy, the Egyptian-born Canadian journalist who was wrongly arrested and spent a year in a prison in Egypt, is working to make it law for the federal government to step in and help others imprisoned abroad.

Right now, Canadian involvement in its citizens' legal troubles in foreign countries is discretionary

Mohamed Fahmy speaks in London last October, a day after leaving Egypt for the first time since his imprisonment. (CBC)

Mohamed Fahmy, the Egyptian-born Canadian journalist who was wrongly arrested and spent a year in a prison in Egypt, is working to make it law for the federal government step in and help others imprisoned abroad.

Fahmy, who is speaking in Halifax today at an Atlantic Journalism Awards event, said he is working on a "protection charter" through a non-profit foundation called Fahmy Foundation for a Free Press.

"I have been working with Amnesty [International] on this protective charter.  We are hoping to improve consular services for Canadians abroad," he told CBC's Mainstreet.

"At the moment the Canadian government deals on its own discretion when a Canadian is imprisoned abroad. We are pushing and hoping to obligate it to make it a law, enshrined in the Canadian system."

Fahmy also gave a public talk in Halifax Saturday to raise funds for his foundation.

The foundation wants a mechanism that directs Canadian ambassadors to speak to families, NGOs and the media in a timely manner about Canadians being jailed abroad, he said.

"The urgency about moving in the first 48 hours someone is detained because that is the time someone can get tortured or killed in some of these Middle Eastern prisons, that I have seen myself."

'Need to reach out immediately'

Fahmy was working with Al-Jazeera's English network when he was arrested and convicted of working against the government. He spent 400 days in jail before being pardoned and returned to Canada in September 2015.

"I hope the government would intervene on the highest level, from the prime minister, immediately because at the moment in the Middle East what we're seeing is that there are human rights being breached and you cannot just depend on the very hard-working ambassadors," he said.

Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy (centre), his wife Marwa, left and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, right, are shown in an Egyptian courtroom in 2015. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)

"We need to reach out immediately especially in the case that is crystal-clear, like myself, that this person is innocent."

He said after meeting recently with federal officials "the government in Ottawa is listening. There are diplomats that have endorsed my charter and there are diplomats that have presented a similar initiative and I hope things do get better for us when we travel abroad."

The idea for forming a foundation came as a result of the advocacy by the Canadian public that resulted in his release.

"We donate toward legal fees for journalists stuck behind bars. We advocate — this is exactly what happened to me, so many people donated to my legal fees."

Canada has press freedom issues

He also said Canada needs to deal with some freedom-of-the-press issues here at home.

"I cannot call it a problem but we do have  some issues. Canada has been ranked by reporters without borders as 10 (places) lower than it was last year."

Obstacle to access to public information is one area that needs to be examined, he said.

Fahmy recently returned from a trip to Egypt where he was doing research on a book about his experience, scheduled to be published this fall.

"Before I went, I made sure I was welcome. It was really, really hard going back because I realize the situation is even worse than it was when I was there," he said.

"I was very careful, keeping a low profile or even commenting. It is not free for cartoonists, authors or journalists."

CBC's Stephanie vanKampen attended Saturday's talk by Fahmy in Halifax: