Egyptian-Canadian journalist sentenced to seven years in jail

QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:01 PM ET

OTTAWA -- The Canadian government released a tepid statement from a junior minister in response to a seven-year prison sentence for a Canadian journalist convicted in Egypt in a terrorism trial many international observers considered a sham.

Canada's Minister of State (Foreign Affairs and Consular) Lynne Yelich did not ask for the release of Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, who has lived in Vancouver and Montreal, and was planning to make Montreal his home.

Rather, her statement read that Canada is "very disappointed" that Fahmy and his two Al Jazeera colleagues, Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, were found guilty Monday.

The three men were accused of aiding the banned Muslim Brotherhood and reporting lies that harmed Egyptian national security.

The bizarre trial saw the prosecution present evidence that seemingly had nothing to do with the case, including footage of sheep farming as well as the song, Somebody That I Used to Know, by Australian singer Gotye.

U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain will recall its ambassador because of the "appalling" verdict and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she's "deeply dismayed" and "appalled by the severity of (the verdict)."

The White House on Monday called for the Egyptian government to pardon the three accused or commute their sentences "so they can be released immediately."

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has been silent, leaving the task of speaking for Canada to his subordinate Yelich, who said that Canada will "ensure that (Fahmy's) medical needs are being met."

NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar said Monday's verdict "suggests that media freedom does not exist in Egypt."

Dewar said Prime Minister Stephen Harper "must raise Mr. Fahmy's case with the Egyptian authorities at the highest level," similar to what the U.K. and Australian authorities have done.

Tom Henheffer, executive director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, said Canada's support for Fahmy during the trial was "extremely disappointing."

"We have been in touch with the Prime Minister's Office, with Baird, and we've received nothing but platitudes," Henheffer said.

Henheffer suggested Canada was playing down its criticism because Fahmy wasn't born in Canada or because Canada didn't want to strain its relations with Egypt.

Baird recently congratulated former general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for winning the Egyptian presidential election. Last July, el-Sisi led a military coup that overthrew the elected Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Mursi.

Mursi was elected president after Hosni Mubarak's decades-long rule came to an end during the 2011 Egyptian revolution.

The verdict is also seen as an indictment against Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based news network whose English and Arabic branches have been heavily criticized by Egyptian authorities since the 2011 revolution.

The Qatari government is supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood and the country's relations with Egypt have been strained since Sisi ousted Mursi last year.

Al Jazeera's offices in Egypt have been closed since July 3 when security forces raided them hours after Mursi's ouster.

The Egyptian government denied the accusations from international observers and Western media that the trial was unfair.

"The Egyptian foreign ministry strongly rejects any comment from a foreign party that casts doubt on the independence of the Egyptian judiciary and the justice of its verdicts," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

- With files from Reuters.


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