Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Sues his own boss

Al-Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmi sues the Qatari network over his detention in Egypt, reports Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmi, who faces a retrial after spending more than a year in jail in Egypt, said he was filing a lawsuit against his own TV station Al-Jazeera.

At a press conference on 5 May, Fahmi said the suit against the Qatari-based network was for $100 million in punitive and remedial damages for alleged negligence and breach of contract. It was filed in Canada’s British Columbia Supreme Court. Fahmi, who at one time had Egyptian-Canadian nationality, was acting bureau chief for Al-Jazeera’s English channel in Egypt at the time of his arrest on terrorism-related charges.

Fahmi was one of the three Al-Jazeera’s journalists – along with Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed – who were sentenced in June 2014 to between seven and 10 years on charges of aiding terrorists and spreading misinformation while covering anti-government demonstrations that followed the ouster of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. After they were arrested in December 2013, and after spending over 400 days in jail, Fahmi and Mohamed were released on 12 February ahead of the first session of their retrial.

Their release took place two weeks after Greste was deported under a new presidential law allowing the deportation of foreign prisoners. President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi issued a decree allowing the deportation of foreigners who have been detained pending an investigation or convicted and imprisoned in Egypt.

After the decree was passed, Greste was deported, and Fahmi, who was holding Egyptian as well as Canadian nationality, renounced his Egyptian citizenship in hopes of being deported. But it was only when an appeals court in Egypt ordered a retrial that he was freed.

On Saturday, Cairo Criminal Court postponed the retrial of the three Al- Jazeera English journalists to 1 June. The decision is to allow the court to start listening to the defendants’ pleas, starting with the general prosecution’s proceedings.

During a press conference on Monday in Cairo’s Four Seasons Hotel, Fahmi, who was accompanied by his Canadian lawyer Joanna Gislason and Egyptian lawyer Mohamed Hammouda, accused his employer of taking actions that led to his jail sentence. “Now, I will sue them at any cost, and I will win,” he told reporters.

Fahmi, 40, claimed that Al-Jazeera acted as “an arm of Qatar’s foreign policy” and “was not only biased towards the Muslim Brotherhood but it was their sponsor as well”. “They (Al-Jazeera) don’t seem to understand that they cannot continue to challenge the sovereignty of governments, put the story ahead of the safety of their employees, and assume that they will continue to get away with it,” Fahmi, who was born in Egypt but moved to Canada with his family in the early 1990s, said.

“Fahmi is a professional journalist. He understands that there are risks of going into the field,” Gislason said. “That’s not what we are talking about here. Not only did Al-Jazeera fail to protect these journalists; it itself imperilled them. Al-Jazeera itself contributed to the harm that they suffered,” Gislason said on Monday.

Throughout his imprisonment, Fahmi, through media reports, used to describe the case as being politicised and part of a feud between Egypt and Qatar.

The case was believed to stem from strained Cairo-Doha relations. Egypt’s ties with Qatar have been tested since Morsi’s ouster following mass protests on 30 June 2013. Qatar, which funds Al-Jazeera, was supportive of both Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood of which he is a member. Though the tension saw signs of easing in 2014 when Qatar expelled prominent Brotherhood leaders in September, relations between the two countries are still unstable.

In a quick response, Al-Jazeera issued a statement on Fahmi. “It’s sad to see Fahmi and his lawyer repeating criticisms of Al-Jazeera made by the Egyptian authorities. It’s what his captors want to hear at this stage of the retrial.

“All governments have news outlets that they don’t like, but they don’t use spurious grounds to put journalists in jail. If Fahmi wants to seek monetary compensation from anyone, it should be from his jailers,” the statement said.

Fahmi’s Egyptian lawyer Hammouda said his client had chosen Canada to file the lawsuit because “he is seen as a traitor in Egypt” since surrendering his citizenship and for being accused of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Egyptian authorities designated a terrorist group in December 2013.

“Fahmi is negatively perceived by domestic public opinion in Egypt. That’s why he filed the case in Canadian courts,” Hammouda said.

Asked why he was now publicly speaking out against Al-Jazeera, Fahmi said that during his imprisonment, he learned that the network had been supplying cameras to Muslim Brotherhood members and sympathisers and using their footage without sourcing. “This is not journalism, this is propaganda and it is dangerous. Our time in prison is proof of that,” Fahmi said during the press conference in which the theme was ‘Journalism is not political activism’, a variation of Al- Jazeera’s slogan in support of its three journalists throughout their detention -- ‘Journalism is not a crime.’

On Robert Fisk’s Sunday article in The Independent, Fahmi was quoted as saying that during his detention he found himself surrounded by Islamic State jihadists and Brotherhood supporters. “When the assassins shot dead the Charlie Hebdo staff in Paris, the young jihadists in Tora Prison around me were shouting ‘yes, yes’ in support of the killers. The Bin Ladens and Zarqawis of the future are being born in Tora Prison,” Fahmi said.

Fahmi stated that he did a lot of research and interviews in prison and “since I’ve been out of prison, [it] has really added a lot of what I’m saying today in terms of clearly stating that Al-Jazeera Mubashir is biased in addition to being the sponsor of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Fahmi added that if he is sentenced again to prison he preferred to be deported like Greste than to be jailed again in Egypt.

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