February 15, 2015 - 7:03 AM
CAIRO - Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy is pulling no punches when it comes to who he blames for the 400 days he's spent in a Cairo prison — and Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former foreign affairs minister John Baird are on his list.
In an interview with the British newspaper The Independent, Fahmy says it was the "geo-political score-settling" among Middle Eastern countries that put him and his two colleagues — Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed — behind bars.
But the 40-year-old journalist tells the newspaper that he blames his employer, Al Jazeera English, and Canada — especially Harper and Baird — for failing to win his freedom.
Fahmy says Harper did not speak with his Egyptian counterpart to secure his release — unlike Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who he said had intervened on Greste's behalf, speaking to the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi three times.
Asked Thursday in Victoriaville, Que., whether he'd spoken directly to el-Sissi, Harper wouldn't say so directly, but did suggest he'd been in touch with his Egyptian counterpart. "Our government has for some time now has been in contact with Egyptian authorities at all levels, including my level,'' Harper said
Fahmy says he gave up his Egyptian citizenship because he was promised it was "the only way" to leave the country, but he says that didn't happen because of what he termed a "diplomatic error" by Baird.
During a recent visit to Cairo, Fahmy said, Baird had said he wouldn't have to serve the rest of his sentence if he were to be deported to Canada, and the journalist says the statement angered the Egyptian authorities.
"Egypt is saying Peter and I are to be deported to finish our sentences abroad, there's a lot of face-saving for Egypt. Then Baird goes and says this," The Independent quoted Fahmy as saying.
Asked to respond to the article in the Independent, a source who worked in Baird's office said Egyptian officials have not raised the idea of sending Fahmy home to face similar charges in Canada and that the charges don't exist in Canada.
The source said the former foreign affairs minister had two conversations with the Egyptian foreign minister after Baird left Egypt in January and that both times the Egyptian minister indicated Fahmy's case would be dealt with swiftly.
In his visit to Cairo in January, Baird had said that Fahmy would not be put on trial in Canada if deported from Egypt as a convicted criminal, saying that would not be acceptable.
The Independent story was headlined "Freed Al-Jazeera journalist: Why can’t Canada get me home?" and it said Fahmy "angrily attacked Canada for mistakes which he said have left him trapped in Egypt."
Fahmy said he wants to leave but his name is on a no-fly list at the airport and he needs Canada to get him off that list.
"We will continue to press for his release and we do remain optimistic this case will be resolved," Harper said Thursday.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015