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Letter to The Honourable John Baird re the cases of Mohamed Fahmy and Khaled al-Qazzaz in Egypt

    June 25, 2014

    The Honourable John Baird
    Minister of Foreign Affairs
    125 Sussex Drive
    Ottawa, Ontario   K1A 0G2

    Dear Minister Baird,

    We are writing with an urgent request that you speak out publicly and forcefully with respect to the cases of two prisoners in Egypt with strong Canadian connections: Canadian citizen Mohamed Fahmy and Canadian permanent resident Khaled al-Qazzaz. Mr. Fahmy has been sentenced to a seven year prison sentence and Mr. al-Qazzaz has been held without charge or trial for close to one year.  More than 80,000 Amnesty International members across the country look to you to press Egyptian authorities immediately to address the serious human rights concerns in these two cases.

    Take action for the three journalists – Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed.

    We write further to our Open Letter to you dated April 15, 2014, sent in advance of your trip to Egypt.  At that time we urged you to use the opportunity of your meetings in Egypt to raise concerns about the state of human rights protection in the country, including with respect to Mr. Fahmy and Mr. al-Qazzaz’ cases.  We urged you to call for Mr. Fahmy’s immediate and unconditional release; and for Mr. al-Qazzaz to be released unless he is promptly charged with a recognizably criminal offence and given a fair trial before a civilian court.

    Over two months later, their situation has only worsened.  As you know, Mr. Fahmy and two Al-Jazeera colleagues, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed, were convicted yesterday on charges of falsifying news and belonging to or assisting the banned Muslim Brotherhood.  Mr. Fahmy received a seven year prison sentence.  We have condemned the convictions as an unacceptable attack on media freedom in Egypt.  An Amnesty International trial observer concluded that the trial was a complete sham and the convictions are nothing short of a travesty of justice.  Mr. Fahmy is a prisoner of conscience and must be immediately and unconditionally released. 

    You will be aware that there have been many very strong public statements by numerous other governments about the convictions.  Mr. Greste, an Australian citizen, was also sentenced to a seven year term.  Your counterpart, Australian Foreign Minister Julia Bishop, stated that she was “appalled” by the conviction and indicated that the Australian government will be pressing Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to intervene directly in the case.  US Secretary of State John Kerry referred to these as "chilling and dramatic sentences” and noted that “injustices like these simply cannot stand." 

    Many other governments have made similar statements.  Canada will not stand alone, therefore, in highlighting how deeply troubling these convictions are; and in calling on the Egyptian government to intervene and secure their immediate release.  It will be noted and of very serious concern, however, if Canada stands apart from that increasingly united global chorus of condemnation and insistence that these men be freed.

    There have been suggestions that Canada’s ability to advocate on Mr. Fahmy’s behalf is limited because of his dual Canadian/Egyptian nationality.  Whether or not the Egyptian government asserts that his dual nationality is relevant in this case; that should in no way temper Canada’s response.  Mr. Fahmy is a Canadian citizen.  He is a prisoner of conscience.  He has experienced and continues to experience a range of serious human rights violations.  Canada must intervene with a clear demand that he be immediately released.

    Concerns about Khaled al-Qazzaz’ case have also deepened since the time of your visit to Egypt.  Mr. al-Qazzaz was working as an aide to former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi when he was arrested and “disappeared” on 3 July 2013.   For two months no one, including his wife, Canadian citizen Sarah Attia, knew anything of his fate or whereabouts.  He will soon mark a full year since his arrest yet he has still not been charged or brought to trial.  At a court appearance today his detention was reportedly extended for another 45 days.

    International human rights standards require detainees to be charged and tried promptly.  By any measure one year of detention without charge or trial blatantly violates that fundamentally important obligation.  And each day of further imprisonment in contravention of that vital safeguard only deepens the gravity of the violations Mr. al-Qazzaz continues to experience.  Given that Mr. al-Qazzaz is a Canadian permanent resident and his wife and children Canadian citizens, we renew our call to you to communicate publicly a clear request to Egyptian authorities to release him now unless he is immediately charged with a recognizably criminal offence by the ordinary (not military) Prosecution and given a fair trial before a civilian court with no recourse to the death penalty.

    Minister, Amnesty International is gravely concerned with regard to ongoing and very serious human rights violations in Egypt.  It is clear that journalists, such as Mr. Fahmy and his two colleagues, are at very serious risk in an unrelenting clampdown on free expression in the country.  More widely, thousands of individuals have been locked up over the past year as part of a sweeping crackdown on dissent, with shocking mass death sentences handed down to supporters of former President Morsi.  Amidst this very worrying situation the Egyptian judiciary has proven to be both unwilling and incapable of shoring up rights and justice. 

    It is of utmost importance that the international community, including Canada, insist that the continuing decline in human rights protection in Egypt end.  A strong statement from you, indicating that Canada expects immediate action to restore the full protection of Mr. Fahmy and Mr. al-Qazzaz’ rights, is a crucial step towards that vital goal.


    Alex Neve                                                                   Béatrice Vaugrante
    Secretary General                                                      Directrice Générale
    Amnesty International Canada                                   Amnistie internationale Canada francophone
    (English branch)