NEWS
06/23/2014 12:26 EDT | Updated 08/23/2014 05:59 EDT

Mohamed Fahmy's 'Thank You Canada' Tweet Was Never Sent

"Thank you Canada. I will be arriving soon for some love. No terrorism plans, I promise :)"

This is one of several tweets Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy had asked his brother to send Monday as soon as an Egyptian judge ordered his much anticipated release.

But in a shocking turn of events, Fahmy and two other Al-Jazeera journalists were sentenced to seven years in prison on terrorism-related charges, a verdict widely denounced as an attack on freedom of expression.

"No one expected this verdict at all," Fahmy's brother, Sherif, told The Canadian Press in a phone interview from Cairo.

"Mohamed, when I saw him last week... he was extremely optimistic," he said.

To suddenly see that hope swept away has dealt the family — whose life has been on hold since his arrest six months ago — a crushing emotional blow, he said.

"My parents are too old for this. ... My mother, for example, she broke down today, a total breakdown, none of us are able to calm her down at all."

Fahmy and his colleagues — Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed — were employed with Qatar-based satellite news broadcaster Al-Jazeera English when they were arrested on Dec. 29.

All three were accused of providing a platform for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group of ousted president Mohammed Morsi, which Egypt's government has branded a terrorist organization.

They were also accused of airing falsified footage with the intent of damaging Egypt's national security, charges the trio have denounced, saying they were only doing their job.

Fahmy, Al-Jazeera English's acting Cairo bureau chief, was the most outspoken during trial, often shouting out through the bars of a cage in which defendants were kept.

He was initially placed in a notorious high security prison but was moved to a lower security facility after pressure from Canadian consular officials.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has said he discussed Fahmy's case with his Egyptian counterpart, but Canadian officials have suggested that the journalist's dual citizenship has placed limits on how much they can do.

Fahmy — whose family moved to Canada in 1991 — lived in Montreal and Vancouver for years before eventually moving abroad for work, which included covering stories for the New York Times and CNN.

His family has previously praised the Canadian government, saying it had been working diplomatic channels to help win his release.

After Monday's verdict, however, Sherif Fahmy said Ottawa should take a clear and public stance in his brother's defence.

"Call the Egyptian president... call the Egyptian ambassador in Canada, like Britain did today," he said.

"Do something that proves that you actually care for Mohamed, that is what I am asking them to do."

The Canadian government said it was "very disappointed" with the verdict.

"Canada calls on the Egyptian government to protect the rights of all individuals, including journalists, in keeping with the spirit of Egypt's new constitution and the desire of all Egyptians to build a fully democratic country," Lynne Yelich, junior minister responsible for consular affairs, said in a news release.

Ottawa's response didn't pass muster with some free speech advocates, who said the government must ramp up pressure on Egypt, including possible sanctions.

"I want Ottawa to contact President (Abdel-Fattah) el-Sissi and ask him for a pardon and also to publicly call for the release of Mohamed Fahmy," said Tom Henheffer, executive director of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.

"The only thing that I think is really going to make a difference in this case is to have foreign governments pressure el-Sissi to issue that pardon and to make it clear that that needs to happen or there will be consequences."

Some of the world's top diplomats condemned the trial Monday, calling on the Egyptian government to guarantee the freedom of the press.

The White House said it wants pardons or sentence commutations for the three journalists. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, called the sentencing of the Al-Jazeera journalists "chilling" and said he is voicing his concerns to Egypt's foreign minister.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a former journalist, also called Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to say the jailed Australian journalist was innocent, while the country's Foreign Minister Julia Bishop said she was "appalled" by the severity of the verdict.

Many had expected the three to be released, since another Al-Jazeera reporter who worked for the broadcaster's Arabic service was freed last week.

Abdullah Elshamy, 26, had been on a hunger strike for 100 days after being held for 10 months without charges.

_ With files from The Associated Press.

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