Mohamed Fahmy 'ecstatic' to be free on bail in Cairo

Mohamed Fahmy, the Canadian journalist for Al-Jazeera who spent over a year jailed in Cairo before being freed on bail Friday, is enjoying time with his family but recalls the 'psychological torture' of prison.

Canadian journalist will have to check into police station daily before retrial

Canadian journalist spoke in first interview since being released from prison in Cairo on Friday 2:07

Mohamed Fahmy still can't quite seem to believe he's not locked up. It's a strange feeling when his phone rings, that he can answer it and talk to whomever he wants.

"It’s just a beautiful feeling not having somebody watch over your back," Fahmy said, after spending 412 days in detention in Cairo. "I’m ecstatic. Just doing the mundane things in life, like hanging out with your mother, eating home [cooked] food."

Fahmy, 40, was released on bail early Friday morning. It was the first positive development since his ordeal began in late December, 2013 when he was arrested. An Egyptian court threw out his conviction last month, but Fahmy and another colleague from Al-Jazeera’s English network face a retrial in just over a week.

Fahmy and Baher Mohammed again face the same serious charges, including spreading false news and aiding the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

I am panicking. My family’s panicking. Yes, we are enjoying the first hours of freedom but if you want to be realistic, this is far from being over.- Mohamed Fahmy

"I am panicking. My family’s panicking. Yes, we are enjoying the first hours of freedom but if you want to be realistic, this is far from being over," Fahmy said in his first broadcast interview since his release.

Fahmy and his supporters have little faith that he will receive a fair retrial, even though the case of the three Al-Jazeera journalists has been a black eye for Egypt’s reputation internationally.

"We will never be acquitted in this case. Although everyone knows we are innocent. Egypt wants that headline that Al-Jazeera is a channel that fabricates and it supports terror. And it wants that in the history books."

The solution, for Fahmy, continues to be deportation to Canada.

Egyptian lawmakers granted new powers to its president last December, which allow Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to pardon or deport foreigners convicted of crimes in Egypt.

Al-Jazeera correspondent Peter Greste was released and deported to Australia two weeks ago.

That move raised hopes that Fahmy was next. Fahmy said his fiancée had packed their suitcases and were preparing to return to Canada. But, instead, Egyptian judicial authorities decided to retry the case.

"I felt betrayed by the Egyptians. I felt let down by the Canadians. I felt that I’m right back into the loop."

Calls to step up pressure from Canada

Fahmy and his lawyers say the Canadian government needs to step up the pressure on Egypt, so Fahmy doesn’t have to have his case retried.

"There is no impediment to his immediate transfer to Canada and Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper should personally intervene to ensure that the promise that was made by the Egyptian government to his government, and to its citizen, is now honoured," said Amal Clooney, the prominent human rights lawyer who has taken up Fahmy’s case, in a statement.

Mohamed Fahmy, 40, was released on bail early Friday morning but still faces a retrial. He told CBC there was little contact with the outside world for much of his 14 months in prison and that he and fellow detainees faced psychological torture. (Saša Petricic/CBC )

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office said it has sent letters to President el-Sisi, though officials refused to release the dates the correspondence was made. Canadian officials said the government has raised Fahmy's case 19 times over the last two weeks, according to a statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Fahmy maintains that the Canadian response isn't working in Egypt, because of the kind of diplomacy being employed. "We should have a prime minister calling Sisi over the phone," he told CBC News. "Emails and the usual diplomatic boundaries cannot be used in this situation."

Fahmy questioned last month's visit to Egypt by John Baird, who has since resigned as minister of foreign affairs. Baird told reporters that Fahmy would not face a new trial or serve jail time in Canada, which is a stipulation of Egypt’s new deportation law. Fahmy called that a “diplomatic error” which embarrassed Egyptian authorities and perhaps presented a road block to his release.

Fahmy’s family paid $41,000 to secure his release on bail. He has to sign in daily at a Cairo police station, an order meant to prevent him from leaving Egypt.

No travel documents

But he has no travel documents at all. Fahmy said the Egyptian authorities lost his Canadian passport when he was arrested. Fahmy gave up his Egyptian citizenship last month, under pressure from Egyptian officials who said it was his only path to freedom.

"I’m walking around with no Egyptian ID, no Canadian ID. I have nothing that proves I exist," Fahmy said.

That lack of documentation has also prevented him from getting married to his fiancée Marwa Omara, who quit her job in Cairo when the couple was told Fahmy’s deportation to Canada was "imminent."

Fahmy spent 14 months in detention, locked up in solitary confinement at first. "I did not see the sun for a month," he said.

Fahmy was then moved to a slightly larger cell, which he called 'the shoebox,' along with the two other Al-Jazeera journalists.

The days were long. There was little contact with the outside world for much of his time in prison.

"We were calling it psychological torture. We were not physically tortured, but it was almost torture to have no access to books, newspapers or information."

Despite the looming retrial, Fahmy said he still is focusing on his future, with Omara, in Canada. The couple plans to move to Vancouver. Fahmy said he can see himself still involved in journalism, but perhaps with a different focus than breaking stories and covering conflicts.

"I do want to engage in advocacy for journalists who are caught behind bars, and there are a lot of us still in there."

About the Author

Derek Stoffel

CBC News Middle East correspondent

Derek Stoffel, CBC's World News Editor, is a former Middle East correspondent, who covered the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and reported from Syria during the ongoing civil war. Based in Jerusalem for many years, he covered the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. He has also worked throughout Europe and the U.S., and reported on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.

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