'I can't wait to go back to Canada': Fahmy freed from Egyptian prison
Published Wednesday, September 23, 2015 7:48AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 23, 2015 6:57PM EDT
Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy says he is "very happy to be free" and "can't wait" to get back to Canada.
The Al Jazeera English journalist received a pardon from Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on Wednesday and was freed from prison, where he was serving a three-year sentence on widely denounced terrorism charges.
In a telephone interview with CTV News Channel, Fahmy said he was relieved this "very long nightmare" was over.
"I'm just very happy to be free," said Fahmy. "I can't wait to go back to Canada."
Fahmy said he has spoken to Canada's ambassador to Egypt minutes and embassy staff will work to remove his name from the country's no-fly list.
He said the issue "is not a big deal" and he should be able to return to Canada after Eid -- a public holiday in Egypt -- ends in three days.
"I will be jumping back on the first plane back to Canada to really celebrate my release," said Fahmy.
"I have so many things I want to do – I finally feel free."
Fahmy said he is excited to see his father, who lives in Canada.
Hours after he received the pardon, Fahmy was seen on Cairo's city streets with his arms around his wife. Fahmy's family told CTV News that he learned about the pardon after hearing the news on TV.
El-Sissi pardoned Fahmy and his colleague Baher Mohamed, along with dozens of others Wednesday.
The president pardoned the group of 100 a day before he is set to travel to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Fahmy said that the president often pardon's prisoners during Eid, but he was surprised by the numbers and he added that usually "it doesn’t political prisoners."
He added that the move may be related to El-Sissi's presence at U.N. session.
"I think a lot of eyes were going to be on Egypt's role in human rights," said Fahmy.
Fahmy, Mohamed and their colleague journalist Peter Greste were sentenced to three years in prison after a retrial in late August, when they were found guilty for airing what the court described as "false news." Greste, who was deported from Egypt last February, was also pardoned on Wednesday.
In a statement, Fahmy’s lawyer, Amal Clooney, said she was “delighted” by news of the pardon.
“It has been a long ordeal, and we are grateful to President Sisi for exercising his power to pardon the two journalists. This is a historic day in Egypt where the government has finally corrected a longstanding injustice, and set two innocent men free,” Clooney said.
Fahmy's wife, Marwa Omara, told CTV News Channel that the entire family was very happy to learn of the pardon, which came as a surprise to all of them.
"I just got the news," she said from Cairo. "He was so happy, I don't know how I express how I feel right now. I feel like this nightmare is finally over."
Omara said she had learned of the pardon just as she was leaving the prison where Fahmy was being held. She quickly asked to see her husband again to celebrate with him. "He was so happy, he was thanking God to be out," she said.
At an election campaign event in Toronto, Conservative candidate and Minister of Foreign Affairs Rob Nicholson said he was very pleased with the news and thanked consular officials for their hard work on the case.
Nicholson said when he spoke with the Egyptian foreign minister about the case just a few weeks ago, he was "optimistic" and "encouraged" by their discussion.
Members of the other political parties released statements Wednesday morning in response to the pardon. All welcomed the news, but suggested that the Conservative government did not do enough to free Fahmy during his imprisonment.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said that Fahmy's pardon was "a long time coming."
“Canadians need to know that their government will do everything in its power to ensure the release of Canadians unjustly imprisoned abroad," Trudeau said in the Liberal statement.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May blamed Conservative inaction for prolonging Fahmy's hardship.
"Many Canadians, including myself, had called upon Stephen Harper to act in support of an innocent Canadian citizen who has been wrongly imprisoned for more than a year," she said in the Green Party statement. "His failure to do so prolonged Mr. Fahmy's hardship."
NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar said that the NDP "consistently" pressed the prime minister to personally intervene with the Egyptian president.
“While this is happy news and we look forward to his quick return to Canada, it is also important we learn lessons from this difficult situation about how we can better protect Canadian citizens abroad,” Dewar said.
Fahmy thanked members of the Opposition for their help and singled out Trudeau and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair for being in contact "regularly."
"Their support is something I will always remember," Fahmy told CTV News Channel.
'The best birthday gift ever'
Fahmy, Mohammed and Greste were arrested in late 2013. They were charged with being part of the Muslim Brotherhood, which authorities declared a terrorist organization, and airing false footage. The charges against them have largely been decried as a sham.
Omara said Fahmy's imprisonment has taken its toll on the entire family.
She said a few weeks before his arrest, Fahmy's father was diagnosed with cancer, and her husband was devastated that he couldn't be by his father's side.
"He was very sad that he wasn't able to be next to his father and support him," she said. "I'm sure now he's very happy."
She added that Tuesday was her birthday, which she spent alone. Now, she can look forward to celebrating with her husband, she said. "This is the best birthday gift ever," she said.
Fahmy thanked his "beautiful wife" for the "amazing job" she has done behind closed doors to advocate for his release.
Fahmy, 41, moved to Canada with his family in 1991. He lived in Montreal and Vancouver before eventually moving abroad to work as a journalist.
His wife said once he's back in Canada he plans to start working as a sessional professor at the University of British Columbia's journalism school.
With files from The Canadian Press