Mohamed Fahmy, a former Al-Jazeera journalist who was released from prison in Egypt last month, has returned home to Canada with the hope of starting an election debate on how the Canadian government can better protects its citizens abroad.
Fahmy told The Associated Press that he arrived in Toronto quietly with his wife on Sunday. He said he had long imagined in prison the moment he would return.
His arrival ends a nearly two-year ordeal that raised questions about Egypt’s commitment to free speech and whether Canada’s Conservative government did enough to help him.
Fahmy was arrested in 2013 with two Al-Jazeera English colleagues. He was sentenced to three years in prison in a retrial this year for airing what a court described as “false news” and coverage biased in favor of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood. The case was widely condemned by rights groups and others. He and his Egyptian co-defendant received a presidential pardon last month.
“This is what I’ve been waiting for,” Fahmy told the AP. “I felt humbled and safe seeing the kind and heartfelt vibes from the police officers and security at the airport who were extremely hospitable and recognized my face despite my attempts to keep my arrival quiet. It was mind-boggling that the cab driver, passengers on the flight and strangers recognized me in the airport and knew the details of my story. I felt lots of warmth and love.”
One of Fahmy’s colleagues, Australian Peter Greste, was released a year before Fahmy after Australia’s prime minister intervened. Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott personally lobbied for Greste’s release at least three times with his Egyptian counterpart.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is facing re-election next Monday, has been criticized by Fahmy and others for not doing enough to get the journalist back to Canada. Fahmy said he made sure to come back to Canada amid the campaign because he feels it his responsibility to start a debate on the issue.
Fahmy said Harper’s “hyper conservative approach directly damaged and delayed my chances for freedom.” He said former Foreign Minister John Baird damaged his case when he said during a press conference in Egypt that Canada would not prosecute Fahmy should he be turned over to Canada, something Fahmy called a diplomatic faux pas. He said he would have more to say about it at a press conference in Toronto on Tuesday.
A senior government official said Harper spoke with Egypt’s president earlier this year and sent several letters on Fahmy’s behalf, including a letter about four or five weeks ago. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the case, did not respond when asked if Harper called more than once.
Fahmy has said he was not aware that Harper had called Egypt’s president. He said he was grateful but asked, “Why aren’t they transparent about him making a call and taking a stand?”
Fahmy met with opposition Liberal leader Justin Trudeau late Monday and has plans to meet opposition New Democrat leader Tom Mulcair but said he has no plans to endorse a candidate.
He also plans to take up a position as an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia’s school of journalism in Vancouver, and is also writing a book about his experiences.
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