MONTREAL — Stephen Harper’s political opponents are calling on the prime minister to take time off the campaign trail and concentrate on securing the release of jailed Canadian journalist Mohammed Fahmy.
An Egyptian court sentenced Fahmy to three years in prison on Saturday and the foreign affairs critics for both the New Democrats and the Liberals lashed out at Harper for failing to intervene earlier in the case.
They both called on him once again to phone Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to personally demand the Al-Jazeera journalist’s release.
“Very concretely, we are asking Stephen Harper to put aside the election campaign for a moment and call President al-Sisi directly and ask him to send Mr. Fahmy home,” NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar told The Canadian Press.
Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic Marc Garneau told The Canadian Press Harper should contact al-Sisi and “register Canada’s strongest disapproval, and in fact to make it very clear that the relationship between Canada and Egypt, which has been a good one, is in jeopardy if Mr. Fahmy has to go back to jail.”
Fahmy faced widely denounced terror charges and spent more than a year in prison before a successful appeal of an earlier conviction resulted in a retrial that culminated in Saturday’s verdict, where Fahmy was sentenced for failing to register with the country’s journalist syndicate, bringing in equipment without security approval, and broadcasting “false news” on Al-Jazeera.
Both Dewar and Garneau accused Harper of failing to take strong action in the Fahmy case. Garneau said it was “very clear” the Harper government’s response was “inadequate” considering Fahmy’s colleague at Al-Jazeera, Peter Greste, was successfully deported to his native Australia because of “direct intervention” on the part of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Dewar said Harper’s Conservatives, in contrast with the Australian prime minister, decided to “stand on the sidelines and really not step up and do their job.”
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair took to Twitter to condemn the court ruling, as did Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
On Sunday, Defence Minister Jason Kenney reiterated statements that the Canadian government has serious concerns about Fahmy’s case and will continue to raise its concerns “at the highest levels,” but he would not discuss details or specify whether Harper would personally intervene.
“It’s easy for an opposition leader to stand up with a megaphone,” he said. “But sometimes a degree of forceful discretion is required in the management of complex consular cases.”
Lynne Yelich, minister of state for foreign affairs, said in a statement Saturday that Canada is “disappointed” and that Saturday’s decision “severely undermines confidence in the rule of law in Egypt.”
In a tweet, Harper wrote “Canada continues to call on Egypt for the immediate and full release of Mr. Fahmy, and full co-operation to facilitate his return home.”
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry summoned Britain’s ambassador on Sunday to protest comments he made about the case. John Casson said the sentences would undermine confidence in Egypt’s stability. The ministry issued a statement that Casson’s comments were “unacceptable interference” in the country’s judiciary.