Jailed Egyptian-Canadian journalist abandoned by Harper government

Freedom of the press under attack across the globe

Tariq Sohail

On June 23, 2014 an Egyptian court sentenced Mohamed Fahmy and his two colleagues to seven years in prison on terrorism-related charges.

Fahmy, an Egyptian-Canadian journalist, was covering the Arab Spring in Egypt before he was arrested. The Egyptian government accuses the three journalists of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, spreading “false news,” and for allegedly smearing Egypt’s reputation as a means of undermining the current military-backed government.

It is not a new phenomenon for authoritarian governments to jail or kill journalists for covering news that could be critical of the government. That is the reason why freedom of press exists – to keep government power in check.

Fahmy says he did not receive proper medical treatment for his wounded shoulder when left in solitary confinement for six weeks, and he fears the injuries might be permanent. He was in an Egyptian prison for six months before the trial.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and British Foreign Secretary William Hague have both expressed opposition to the treatment and convictions of Fahmy and his colleagues; U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry referred to the sentences as “chilling” and “draconian.”

Journalists all around the world are persecuted for being journalists. It is common in dictatorships or areas lacking a stable government such as Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and, more recently, Syria. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, two-thirds of the journalists killed in 2013 were in the Middle East, with Syria and Egypt seeing a rise in fatalities.

Jailing journalism

It cannot be stressed enough how vital a free press is to the survival of civilization and liberty in any nation.

The Harper government’s response to this farcical trial and conviction has been hushed and weak. Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird defended the government’s approach to the sentences by saying that the reason Canada isn’t speaking out loudly in this case is because that approach has not worked in the past.

The Harper government’s policy toward jailed Canadians in foreign countries is very selective and politically expedient. Brenda Martin, who was convicted in Mexico for Internet fraud, was transferred to Canadian custody after Harper personally intervened. Huseyin Celil, imprisoned in China, was showered with the government’s strong support for his release. Yet there have been times when Harper has allowed Canadians to be stranded in African prisons.

It also isn’t unheard of for journalists to be mistreated by Western democracies in some cases. Jeremy Scahill, an investigative journalist who has reported on the assassination program of the Obama administration, has received warnings from people high up in the administration.

It is inherent within the profession of journalism to report on hard-hitting news in an unbiased way, and some governments would rather keep the public in the dark. Journalists and governments are in a constant struggle over what information ought to see the light of day, which is why it is important that citizens of all countries continue to fight for a free press.