A Canadian journalist on trial in Egypt on widely denounced terror charges expressed shock and anger Wednesday over Ottawa’s refusal to issue him a passport while he awaits the outcome of his case.
Mohamed Fahmy, who was born in Egypt but immigrated to Canada with his family as a teenager, said his original Canadian passport was seized by Egyptian authorities when he was first arrested in Cairo in December 2013, and has never been returned.
The 40-year-old, who spent more than a year in a Cairo prison, has been trying to acquire a new passport ever since being released on bail in February.
“I am crippled and it’s becoming a security threat that I’m walking around with no Canadian passport,” he said in an interview from Cairo. “I don’t know what to do anymore.”
The issue of Fahmy’s passport was brought up at his last court hearing, where the judge gave the Canadian Embassy a “green light” to issue a new passport once Fahmy filed a report with police stating that his original one had been lost.
Fahmy spent six hours at a police station this week getting that report and submitted all necessary document to the embassy only to be delivered a crushing blow in a letter received Wednesday from Canada’s Passport program.
The document, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press, explained that passport regulations require that “court-imposed mobility restrictions are respected” — a reference to Fahmy’s bail conditions.
“The Passport Program will provide you a travel document as soon as the court signals definitively that one is required, that your existing passport is, in fact, missing, and that the court-imposed travel restrictions against you are lifted,” the letter stated.
When pressed on the matter in the House of Commons, Lynne Yelich, Canada’s minister for consular affairs, said the government has a travel document ready for Fahmy “when he is able to travel.”
“Canada continues to ask for full and immediate release for Mr. Fahmy and consular services are being provided to ensure Mr. Fahmy’s well being,” she said.
But NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said the Conservative government was failing Fahmy.
“We have a government that has not only abandoned Mr. Fahmy in Egypt, but they’ve completely failed to give him the basics when it comes to helping him out when he’s stranded in Cairo,” he said in an interview.
“Do they want him home? I would hope so, and in the interim, while there’s due process happening, why wont’ they let him have a passport.”
Being out on bail without a passport has left Fahmy without any official identification, which means, among other things, that he has trouble with banking procedures, can’t get married to his fiancee, and has trouble moving around Cairo.
About a month ago, he was pulled over at a police checkpoint and detained for half an hour because he didn’t have an official identification document, Fahmy said. All he could offer police was a letter from the Canadian Embassy which stated he was a citizen.
“I respect the laws…but there has to be an exception because this is not a matter of bureaucracy,” he said. “I am very frustrated.”
Fahmy was working for satellite news broadcaster Al Jazeera English when he and two colleagues were arrested in Cairo.
After a trial that was internationally criticized, Fahmy was sentenced to seven years in prison, but a successful appeal resulted in a retrial being ordered.
One of his colleagues — Australian Peter Greste — was then suddenly released in February under a law which allows for the deportation of foreigners convicted of crimes.
Fahmy gave up his Egyptian citizenship for what he thought was a requirement to be deported under the same law but he remained in prison.
He and his Egyptian co-worker Baher Mohamed were granted bail after their retrial began.
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.