A Canadian journalist who has spent more than a year in a Cairo prison moved one step closer to freedom Thursday as an Egyptian court ordered him released on bail.
The unexpected development prompted expressions of jubilation from Mohamed Fahmy’s family, although the 40-year-old’s legal battles aren’t quite over yet.
Egyptian Judge Hassan Farid granted bail for Fahmy after a retrial began for him and an Egyptian co-worker, who face terror-related charges their families have called ridiculous. The case was then put over to Feb. 23.
“We’re extremely happy because it’s unbelievable to have your brother back after 14 months, especially with such injustice and all the pain he’s endured,” Fahmy’s brother, Adel Fahmy, told The Canadian Press.
“We still want full exoneration, if not, then deportation, and we still want Canada to pressure hard, but it was a step in the right direction.”
Mohamed Fahmy’s family has been urging the Canadian government to push Egypt for the journalist’s release. They noted that bail was also granted to 11 other defendants caught up in the same case, who are mostly students accused of being involved with Egypt’s banned Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group.
“What happened today should not be mistaken for a result due to the Canadian pressure, because all the defendants were released on bail,” Fahmy’s brother said. “We still feel that the Canadian government is not applying the sufficient pressure.”
When asked about Canada’s efforts on Fahmy’s case, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday that his government had “been in contact with Egyptian authorities at all levels, including my level.”
“We will continue to press for his release. And we do remain optimistic that this case will be resolved,” Harper said.
Fahmy was the only defendant who was ordered to pay an amount equivalent to about C$41,000 for his release on bail, as he was considered a flight risk.
His family paid that amount within hours of the court hearing but were told it would take until Saturday for paperwork to be processed for Fahmy to leave prison.
Conditions of Fahmy’s bail included having to report to a local police station every day and a vague order from the judge that none of the defendants were allowed to leave their “hometown,” lawyers said.
It was not clear what that would mean for Fahmy’s efforts to leave Egypt under a new law that allows foreigners convicted of crimes to be deported.
“He has to finish off the trial here unless the deportation is granted,” Fahmy’s brother said. “But we don’t know when that’s actually going to happen.”
Fahmy and two colleagues — Australian Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed — were arrested while working for satellite news broadcaster Al Jazeera English in December 2013.
They were convicted last summer after a trial that was internationally denounced as a sham. A retrial was ordered after a successful appeal in early January.
Greste was then suddenly set free at the beginning of this month under the new deportation legislation and Fahmy, who relinquished his dual Egyptian citizenship in December, expected to follow.
The matter was brought up by Fahmy in court on Thursday, but the judge didn’t address the issue.
“I didn’t ask to give up my Egyptian citizenship. I was asked to do so,” Fahmy said in the courtroom, after being allowed out of a soundproof glass cage where prisoners are held.
Fahmy said security officials told him his case had become a “nightmare” for Egypt and that relinquishing his Egyptian citizenship would allow him to leave the country. He also said Canadian officials told him his deportation was “imminent.”
“We packed up our luggage. My fiancee quit. We booked tickets,” he said, raising an Egyptian flag in the courtroom after he spoke.
Meanwhile, like Fahmy’s family, the wife of Fahmy’s Egyptian co-worker wept with relief at the bail development but hoped for a full resolution in the case.
“I am happy but my happiness is incomplete until he gets acquitted,” said Jehane Rashed, who delivered a child while her husband was behind bars.
Greste, who is now back home in Australia, called the bail decision a “huge step forward,” but added it was “not time to declare it over.”
Al Jazeera called the development “a small step in the right direction.”
“The focus though is still on the court reaching the correct verdict at the next hearing by dismissing this absurd case and releasing both these fine journalists unconditionally,” the broadcaster said in a statement.
The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression — which has been advocating for Fahmy’s release ever since his arrest — said it was “heartened” by the news but continued to push for an end to the journalist’ legal battles.