Treatment of Egyptian-Canadian journalist held in Cairo takes turn for worse
Dozens of Egyptian photojournalists take part in a demonstration to condemn violence against them and to defend their right to cover the news, in front of the Shura Council in Cairo, Egypt, March 19, 2013. (AP / Khaled Elfiqi)
Diana Mehta, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, January 28, 2014 12:28PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 28, 2014 3:27PM EST
The family of an Egyptian-Canadian journalist imprisoned in Cairo worried the man was being drawn into the crosshairs of the country's tumultuous political situation as his treatment behind bars took a sudden turn for the worse.
Mohamed Fahmy marked a month behind bars with no charge on Tuesday as he continued to face allegations of using unlicensed equipment and broadcasting false news while working for satellite news broadcaster Al Jazeera English.
Despite assurances from Canadian officials that his basic needs would be met, his family said his prison conditions had abruptly regressed.
"It's just shocking that there is no advance in the case at all, and there is no one that is providing any help," Fahmy's brother Sherif said in an interview.
Mohamed Fahmy and his two co-workers were arrested Dec. 29 in what was characterized as a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt's military-led government branded a terrorist organization after overthrowing former Islamist president Mohammed Morsi last July.
Since then the 40-year-old Fahmy has been held in a cramped, cold, insect-ridden cell in a high-security prison complex known for housing notorious criminals.
After complaints from his family, Canadian consular officials convinced local authorities to provide Fahmy with a blanket and warm clothes, and received assurances that Fahmy would be taken to hospital on Sunday for a shoulder injury that has left him in much pain.
That hospital trip didn't happen, and instead Fahmy's blanket, jacket, writing materials and even his watch were taken from him, Sherif Fahmy said.
"It's like we're back to square one again. No hospital and he's sleeping on cold, concrete floor with nothing being provided," he said. "We have nothing to do except hoping that the Canadians will do something."
Fahmy's parents -- who travelled to Cairo from their home in Montreal -- learned of the development when they visited their son on Sunday. They also found out that prisoners in the cells around Fahmy also had their basic comforts snatched away earlier that day.
Fahmy told his parents he heard prison officials suggest the actions were in retaliation to explosions which had rocked Cairo days earlier. Those attacks bore the hallmarks of Islamic extremists who have increasingly targeted police and the military since the coup against Morsi and a crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood-led supporters.
A local prosecutor assured Fahmy's family last week that the journalist was no longer suspected of links to the group but his family worried the recent change in his treatment could signal otherwise.
"Them punishing him due to explosions or anything means they still think he has something to do with the Muslim Brotherhood, so this is very scary," Fahmy's brother said, adding that Canadian officials weren't able to provide much comfort.
"What they told us is that the country is currently in emergency state and no one knows anything and nothing is clear yet," he said.
"They reassured us that there is a letter being prepared from the Canadian government to the Egyptian government about this issue, but they once again told us also about the limitation to where they can intervene because of his Egyptian nationality."
Fahmy's family moved to Canada in 1991. He and his three brothers all went to university in Canada before eventually moving abroad for work.
As a journalist Fahmy covered stories for the New York Times and CNN among other news outlets before moving to Egypt in 2011 and eventually becoming Al Jazeera's bureau chief in Cairo.
A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday that Canadian officials were providing consular services to Fahmy and communicating regularly with his family.
"Canadian officials have raised this case with senior Egyptian officials and local authorities continue to be engaged," said Jean-Bruno Villeneuve.
Political observers say Fahmy's case is an example of the ways in which the military-led Egyptian government is stifling any hint of opposition.
"This is all about controlling the media landscape," said University of Waterloo professor Bessma Momani, a keen observer of Middle-Eastern politics.
"It's awful for anyone who dares to think, oppose, challenge or criticize the military rule. Foreign journalists have been particularly subject to this kind of harassment."
Fahmy's detention -- which was extended for another 15 days on Saturday -- stretches on as police wage a fierce crackdown on the Brotherhood, killing hundreds of supporters and arresting thousands more.
"There's an enormous propaganda war right now ," said Momani, acknowledging that Fahmy's case was made complicated by his dual citizenship. "But it doesn't mean we can't lend our strong diplomatic voice to demanding (Fahmy) has due process."
Since Morsi's overthrow last July, at least five journalists have been killed, 45 assaulted, and 11 news outlets raided, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The New York-based group also reported that at least 44 journalists have been detained "without charge in pretrial procedures, which, at times, have gone on for months."