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Jan 15, 2015 2:38 PM

Canada's FM discusses jailed reporters on Egypt visit

The Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) Canada's foreign minister expressed hope Thursday that the fate of a Canadian-Egyptian journalist jailed on terror charges with his two colleagues from Al-Jazeera English Television would be resolved "sooner rather than later."

John Baird's remarks came after Egypt's Appeals Court earlier this month ordered the retrial of the three journalists, convicted on charges of fabricating news footage in a way that endangered national security on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

Canadian-Egyptian Mohammed Fahmy and Australian Peter Greste were sentenced to seven years each, while Egyptian Baher Mohammed was handed a 10-year sentence. Rights groups have called for the journalists' release, calling the trial a sham and said the prosecution failed to produce any evidence.

Baird met his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shukri and said afterward that he came with no expectation of Fahmy's immediate release, adding that the case is a "complex one." It was also the single "irritant" in the nations' bilateral relations, he added.

"We are all working for seeing a constructive resolution on that sooner rather than later," said Baird. "We want to see Mr. Fahmy return home as expeditiously as possible whether it is deportation, a pardon ... (or) through a retrial."

No date has been set yet for the retrial, a process that can take months. According to a law passed last year and which has yet to be implemented, Egypt's president has the right to deport foreigners convicted or accused of crimes on condition they be tried in their home country or serve their sentence there.

Baird said the Canadian government has no legal grounds to try Fahmy if he were deported. "It would not be an option which would be acceptable for the government of Canada," he said.

In a statement provided by his counsels, Fahmy said he hoped the Canadian government can press the Egyptian authorities more to secure his release.

"My situation, and the ongoing legal limbo that I am enduring, affects all Canadians who are in the Middle East because it shows that anyone, regardless of how innocent, can become a victim of the political turbulence here," Fahmy said in a statement released by his counsels Amal Clooney and Lorne Waldman.

Clooney and Waldman urged Canada's government to continue its diplomatic push to ensure Fahmy's release, saying that a retrial may not "guarantee a fair outcome the second time around."

Fahmy's fiancee Marwa Omara said she hopes the deportation law could apply to him.

"I was having high expectations that Mohammed might be released during Mr. Baird's visit. But I understand it is a big case and it is going to take some time," she said. "The only fast solution for this was the deportation. So we were counting on the deportation."

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi can also issue pardons. Though he had ruled out pardoning the three before they exhaust their legal options, el-Sissi said in a recent interview that a presidential pardon would be "examined" in the case of the Al-Jazeera reporters only if "appropriate for Egyptian national security."

The journalists' imprisonment is widely seen as linked to a conflict between Egypt and Qatar, which funds the Doha-based Al-Jazeera and which was a strong backer of Morsi's government.

Egypt has accused Al-Jazeera of serving as an Islamist mouthpiece amid a crackdown on the Brotherhood, now officially branded a terrorist group.

The station denies any bias, saying it is simply covering Islamist protests. Recent thawing in relations between Qatar and Egypt has raised expectations of a resolution in the case of the journalists.


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