Mohamed Fahmy’s legal saga was drawn out further on Thursday as an Egyptian court abruptly postponed a much-anticipated verdict in his widely denounced terror trial.
The Canadian journalist — who was first arrested 19 months ago — expressed frustration at the delay, which will now see him return to a Cairo court on Aug. 2.
“It’s just mind boggling the way they continue to play with our emotions here,” Fahmy told The Canadian Press. “It’s very hard on everyone.”
Fahmy said it took hours to get official word on the postponement.
The first indication something was amiss came when the doors to the court remained closed even as he and members of the media waited to attend the proceedings. Officers then told the group to move to the other side of the street.
“Suddenly we were just escorted away from the vicinity of the area and we were left there with no information at all,” he said. “We had no idea.”
Fahmy said his lawyers have since confirmed that the case is expected to be back in court on Sunday, but there was speculation even that date could be pushed back as two judicial officials speaking on the condition of anonymity said the judge in the case was seriously ill.
The delay means more anxious anticipation for Fahmy, who admitted a postponement of a verdict was not one of the outcomes he had prepared for.
“I took a bag to court today with towels, a toothbrush, slippers…just in case I was sentenced,” he said. “This is how our life is so controlled by this ordeal…it’s just really, really stressful.”
Canada’s minister of state for consular affairs said the government was calling on Egypt to use “all the tools at its disposal” to resolve Fahmy’s case.
“We are deeply concerned over Mr. Fahmy’s current situation and disappointed by the continued delay in his trial,” Lynne Yelich said in a statement. “We ask that all branches of the Egyptian government work together in a concerted manner to address the situation of Mr. Fahmy.”
The 41-year-old Fahmy’s troubles began in December 2013 when he was working as the Cairo bureau chief for Qatar-based satellite news broadcaster Al Jazeera English.
He and two colleagues were abruptly arrested and charged with a slew of offences, including supporting the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, a banned organization affiliated with ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, and with fabricating footage to undermine the country’s national security.
The trio maintained their innocence throughout, but after a trial which was internationally decried as a sham, they were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms. A successful appeal, however, led to a new trial being ordered.
One of the three men — Australian Peter Greste — was suddenly allowed to leave Egypt before the fresh trial began, under a law which allows for the deportation of foreign nationals convicted of crimes. Fahmy gave up his dual Egyptian citizenship while behind bars in the hopes that he could follow the same path, but that didn’t happen. He was, however, granted bail in February shortly after his second trial got underway.
The verdict Fahmy is now waiting for will mark the climax of that retrial.
He could face a number of possible scenarios — incarceration, a suspended sentence, a sentence that credits him for time already spent in prison, or a not-guilty finding.
Amidst the stress of the last week, Fahmy added that he and his fiancee, Marwa Omara, had married each other and showed off their wedding rings to reporters gathered outside court.
“We couldn’t celebrate because we were very anxious,” he said. “I wanted to complete the marriage before the verdict because if we were married, Marwa could easily visit me in prison.”
Fahmy said his new bride has received a temporary visa to Canada and they were planning on “jumping on a plane to Vancouver as soon as this ordeal is over.”
The Canadian Journalists For Free Expression was among a number of voices to express disappointment at Fahmy’s verdict being put off.
“I feel like it’s never going to end,” said spokesman Tom Henheffer. “We’ve been ready for this to be over and it just continues on. It’s astoundingly frustrating for us. I can’t even imagine how difficult this must be for Mohamed.”
Henheffer said it was “ridiculous” that Fahmy and his colleagues were arrested in the first place, and added that there was no justification for his retrial to be dragging on for so long.
Throughout the proceedings Fahmy has pointed out that his case had been complicated by politics in the Middle East, referring to himself as a “pawn” in a rift between Egypt and Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera.
Egypt and Qatar have had tense relations since 2013, when the Egyptian military ousted Morsi amid massive protests.
Qatar is a strong backer of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and Cairo accuses Al Jazeera of being a mouthpiece for Morsi’s supporters — charges denied by the broadcaster.
Fahmy moved to Canada with his family in 1991, living in Montreal and Vancouver for years before eventually moving abroad for work, which included covering stories for the New York Times and CNN.