Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/10/2015 (2195 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Mohamed Fahmy says that while he was sitting in his insect-infested cell in Egypt, facing years of imprisonment and nursing a broken shoulder, he had to believe the Canadian government was working behind the scenes to get him out.
Faith was about all he had. In other countries, presidents and prime ministers complain loudly and clearly for citizens detained or convicted in foreign countries whose legal systems make a mockery of justice. In contrast, the Canadian approach to human rights abuses has seemed more like deferential, polite requests for attention to a tiresome diplomatic hassle.
Mr. Fahmy, formerly Al-Jazeera’s Cairo bureau chief, is back in Canada, finally being pardoned late last month for a trumped-up treason charge: broadcasting false news in favour of the banned Muslim Brotherhood. He is still wondering what, if anything, Canada’s highest political offices did to help win his freedom.
Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott won the release of Peter Greste, who was convicted alongside Mr. Fahmy, by persistently and repeatedly phoning Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. Understandably, Canadians expected Prime Minister Stephen Harper to follow suit. Instead, a series of letters were sent, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
The Harper government rejects what it calls "bullhorn" diplomacy, preferring to rely on cabinet ministers and consular staff to work quietly behind the scenes.
And so while former foreign affairs minister John Baird last year listed things that complicated intervention for Mr. Fahmy — dual citizenship; the fact Egypt had a hate-on for Al-Jazeera — Canadians were left to watch others in other countries let loose on the farce of justice that was playing out. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and then-UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay condemned Egypt’s actions as chilling, draconian and a travesty.
Canadians, now, are still no further ahead in understanding what triggered Mr. Fahmy’s release, along with a third colleague. The pardons, made for a number of prisoners convicted for protests, came a day before Mr. el-Sissi’s trip to the UN General Assembly.
Mr. Fahmy has gone public now. He insists he is not being partisan in publicly thanking the support of opposition leaders and criticizing the Harper government, but he stressed he knows who he is not voting for Oct. 19. When told Mr. Harper did intervene, he said he wanted to know more.
And that’s the point: why should the government be so opaque in its work for Canadians whose human rights and freedoms have been trampled by repressive regimes?
There are other Canadians awaiting rescue. The release of Huseyin Celil, the Canadian arrested in Uzbekistan by China and sentenced to life in prison in 2007, was once prominently on Mr. Harper’s bilateral relations to-do list, but the man now wastes away in obscurity.
Canadians are left to conclude their government prefers to tiptoe around difficult diplomatic relations with friendly foreign states, or as in the case of China, powerful trade allies.
That puts the Harper government out of step with the "bullhorn" appeals other democratic nations make for their nationals, with comparative success. It also means those detained, tortured and under threat in countries where the rule of law has an entirely different meaning rot in silence.
Mr. Fahmy is justified in wondering why he had to rely on faith, alone, in that Egyptian cell. Canadians, too, deserve some transparency. And a little more volume out of their government when the human rights of fellow citizens are trampled by authoritarian regimes.