POLITICS

Mohamed Fahmy Says Tory Law Made Him Fear Losing Canadian Citizenship

11/09/2015 07:31 EST | Updated 11/09/2015 07:59 EST

OTTAWA — As he languished in an Egyptian prison, Mohamed Fahmy feared he might lose his Canadian citizenship under a controversial and recently enacted law, the since-freed journalist said Monday.

While behind bars, Fahmy read the former Conservative government's new law, which allows for the revocation of citizenship of someone convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage.

"It hit right home with me because it surfaced during my imprisonment, and I was a candidate,'' Fahmy said in an interview Monday prior to a speaking engagement at Carleton University in Ottawa.

"I panicked and I asked the ambassador to bring me the literature - the bill - and I read it in prison. I was worried."

Fahmy, 41, was freed in September after spending more than 400 days behind bars on terrorism charges in Egypt after a court case that was the subject of broad international criticism.

Fahmy also said he will soon present the Liberal government with a proposed charter of rights on how to deal with citizens imprisoned abroad. He's working on it with Amnesty International and his lawyers.

The new charter stresses something that didn't happen in his case - direct leader-to-leader intervention to put pressure on a foreign government to force a Canadian prisoner's release.

Fahmy has accused former prime minister Stephen Harper and his government of not doing enough to win his release by betraying him and leaving him to languish in a dirty cell.

"The core thing that's important about this is the importance of leader-to-leader intervention as soon as the arrest happens," Fahmy explained.

"The chance for a president abroad to intervene and deport a Canadian citizen could happen between the time of arrest and the time the case is referred to court.''

It can also mean the difference between life and death, or elevate the conditions for a prisoner while they remain behind bars, he said.

"When you get this sort of attention, you could get better treatment in prison ... you could get more food. In a case like mine, you could have gotten better medical treatment rather than end up with a permanent disability in my arm."

Fahmy has lost full mobility in one shoulder because of an injury that went untreated after his arrest.

Fahmy has said his plight was compounded by the fact Harper assigned his case to lower-level ministers, instead of taking an active role like former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott did to win the release of one of their nationals arrested with him.

Unnamed Conservatives have said that Harper did speak to el-Sissi, and sent him several letters.

Fahmy and two colleagues were arrested in Egypt in 2013 and eventually convicted of terror-related charges. They were sentenced to three years in prison after a trial that received widespread international condemnation.

Fahmy, who was the Cairo bureau chief for Al-Jazeera English, was convicted of spreading what a court described as "false news" and coverage biased in favour of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood. Fahmy vehemently denied the charges.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi eventually pardoned Fahmy.

During the recent federal election campaign, Fahmy met with then Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, but said he was not endorsing either's party. But he made clear he would not be voting Conservative.

"I'm lucky I've arrived back to Canada during this new era of change. It's symbolic to who I am now because I'm a newborn man," Fahmy said.

"I come with a responsibility and a platform and ideas that I would like to bring to the table.''

Fahmy and his wife have settled in Vancouver, where he plans to teach journalism.

In the weeks to come, he will also announce the creation of a foundation in his name to help journalists in prison abroad. The organizations that came to his rescue, he said, were the key to his survival.

"It was not just fighting for my freedom, but freedom of expression and the meaning of human rights," he said.

"And that's what kept me going in my cell, where I did not see the sun, did not know what time it was."

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Mohamed Fahmy