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Egypt-Canadian journalist to go on trial

An Egyptian-Canadian journalist who has been imprisoned in Cairo for a month and a half is expected to go on trial next week, his family said Monday.

Mohamed Fahmy — who was charged last month with several offences, including being a member of a terrorist group — is to face trial Feb. 20.

"That's actually surprising because knowing how things are in Egypt, it usually takes a long time to get a court date," Fahmy's brother Sherif told The Canadian Press. "We're hoping that it's going to be over."

Fahmy was working for satellite news broadcaster Al Jazeera English when he and two co-workers — Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed — were taken into custody on Dec. 29.

The arrests were characterized as part of a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt's military-led government has branded a terrorist organization ever since the July ouster of former Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.

Fahmy and his colleagues were held without charge for a month before Egypt slapped them and 17 other Al Jazeera employees with several offences in what was believed to be the first time Egypt sent journalists to trial for terrorism.

Fahmy, Al Jazeera English's acting bureau chief in Cairo, was charged with using illegal equipment, broadcasting false news that endangered national security and being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

His family and Al Jazeera have strongly denied the allegations, saying the journalists were just doing their job.

As the case heads to court, Fahmy's family said the 40-year-old was optimistic.

"He's just hoping that something good's going to happen," Fahmy's brother said.

Helping his outlook was the fact that he was transferred last week from a cramped, cold single cell in a notorious prison, to a larger, more hospitable cell in a different prison where he is now being held with his two colleagues.

"He was much better," Fahmy's brother said, recounting a visit that took place three days ago. "He smiled for the first time."

Unlike his previous cell, Fahmy is now allowed a mattress, a pillow and a blanket, as well as writing materials.

"The fact that all three of them are together is more relaxing," Fahmy's brother added. "Peter and him are preparing a book that they're writing inside."

Fahmy's brother attributed the change in prison treatment to the attention the case has been getting abroad.

"Egypt started to realize that it's not Mohamed, or Peter or Baher who are destroying Egypt's image outside," he said. "It's what the Egyptian authorities are doing."

The treatment of the Al Jazeera journalists was even drawing criticism from some local pro-government media outlets, Fahmy's brother said.

"Local channels are starting to also support Mohamed and Peter and Baher's case saying that if they didn't do anything wrong let them go free, or worse case, just let them go out of the country and don't let them back in."

Last week, a coalition of media organizations in Toronto called on the Canadian government to intervene in Fahmy's case and questioned whether the man's dual citizenship was working against him.

Fahmy's family has said Canadian officials have warned they were limited in how much they could do due to Fahmy's dual nationality.

Canadian government officials have said consular services are being provided to Fahmy and his family, while his case has been raised with senior Egyptian officials.

Fahmy's family moved to Canada in 1991. He lived in Montreal and Vancouver for years before eventually moving abroad for work, which included covering stories for the New York Times and CNN.

 

The Canadian Press

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