Jailed Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy is being treated as a potential threat to other prisoners his family says, as guards at Egypt’s notorious Tora prison complex have warned fellow detainees not to speak with him.
Fahmy and his two Al-Jazeera colleagues, sentenced last month on terrorism-related charges, are viewed as “dangerous minds,” and other prisoners have been instructed not to interact with them, said Fahmy’s brother Adel.
Following the June 23 verdict — in a case that dealt a severe blow to press freedom in Egypt — Fahmy was transferred to another section of the prison, along with Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed.
It has been dubbed the “Marriott cell” by Egyptian authorities after the hotel where two of them were arrested last December.
The three were made to wear the navy blue prison uniform marking them as convicts, and are being held in a large cell with seven other detainees, including former cabinet members of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
On July 3, Khaled Al-Qazzaz will mark two milestones: his 35th birthday and a full year in prison. An adviser to Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Qazzaz was arrested along with several of Morsi’s top aides on July 3, 2013, the day the Egyptian military toppled the Islamist-led government in a coup.
He has been held without charge ever since. On Tuesday, a judge renewed his detention for an additional 45 days, extending his imprisonment until at least early August.
Qazzaz, who is a permanent resident of Canada, is married to a Canadian citizen and has four young children. At Tuesday’s court session, a representative from the Canadian Embassy attended his hearing for the first time.
For much of the past year, Qazzaz has been held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day in a cramped, insect-infested cell inside the maximum-security wing of Egypt’s notorious Tora prison, known as “Scorpion.”
According to a medical report dated June 15 and obtained by the Star, he is suffering from slipped discs, a pinched nerve in his neck, and stiffness in his spine, and he requires surgery. A former detainee at Scorpion, who saw Qazzaz inside the prison last month, said he appeared unable to stand up unaided and was being supported by several fellow prisoners.
A Canadian journalist working for Al-Jazeera English and his two colleagues were sentenced to seven years in prison by an Egyptian court on terrorism-related charges on Monday, in a case that has dealt a severe blow to press freedom in Egypt and sparked condemnation around the world.
The sentences were handed down to Mohamed Fahmy, an experienced journalist with dual Egyptian-Canadian citizenship who previously worked with CNN and The New York Times; Peter Greste, an award-winning Australian correspondent who also worked with the BBC; and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer who previously worked with Japanese news outlet Asahi Shimbun. Mohamed received an additional three years in prison for possession of a single spent bullet casing he found on the ground during a protest, Al-Jazeera said.
The courtroom, which was packed with journalists, diplomats and family members, erupted after the sentences were read out by the judge. Fahmy grabbed the caged dock and shouted out against the ruling before court police grabbed him and hauled him away. “They’ll pay for this,” he screamed.
Fahmy’s younger brother Adel angrily yelled insults at the court. His mother, Wafaa, wept as she tried to cover Adel’s mouth, afraid for his safety.
“This is not a system and it’s not a country. They ruined our lives, they ruined the whole family,” said Adel. “Everything is corrupt. This country is corrupt through and through.”
Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy stood before the judge overseeing his trial on terrorism charges on Monday brandishing a book about George W. Bush.
Waving the book, Fahmy told the judge it was the former U.S. president who destroyed Iraq — not Al-Jazeera.
“A channel can’t destroy a country,” said Fahmy. “This is an insult to the media martyrs who died in order to cover these wars.”
Fahmy was the acting Cairo bureau chief for Al-Jazeera English when he was arrested on Dec. 29, along with colleagues Peter Greste, an Australian correspondent, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer.
The three journalists have been imprisoned for 170 days on terrorism charges in a case that has sparked worldwide condemnation.
A Canadian journalist who has been imprisoned in Egypt for five and a half months on terrorism charges said he now has a permanent disability due to lack of proper medical care for an injury to his shoulder that was exacerbated by his arrest and detention.
Mohamed Fahmy, an Egyptian-Canadian citizen and the acting bureau chief for Al Jazeera English, was taken for an MRI scan on Wednesday at a private hospital close to the prison complex where he has been detained since December.
“I already have a life sentence,” Fahmy said, referring to the loss of full use of his right arm and demonstrated how he could not lift it any higher than shoulder height. He said he wants to sue the prosecutor for compensation.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Tripoli, Benghazi and other cities across Libya on Friday in support of a renegade general’s campaign against Islamist militias and his calls to suspend parliament.
The protest, dubbed the “Friday of Dignity,” took its name from the offensive launched by the former general, Khalifa Hifter, one week ago in the eastern city of Benghazi. Hifter has since garnered support from current and former military officers, political figures, civil society groups and the militias that dominate many Libyan cities.
Friday’s demonstrations were some of the largest the country has seen since the uprising three years ago. The Hifter-led revolt has ignited a long-brewing political crisis and is posing the most serious challenge to the Libyan government since the overthrow of Moammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The interim government issued a statement in support of Friday’s protests and reasserted its proposal this week to suspend parliament. “The participation of tens of thousands [in the protests] requires all to answer to the demands of the people who represent legitimacy that can’t be ignored,” the statement said.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Tripoli’s Martyrs’ Square on Friday afternoon, chanting against the parliament and in support of a national army and police force to replace the militias that emerged after the 2011 civil war. Many of the militias are on the government payroll, although they remain loyal to their own commanders rather than the state.
Powerful militias aligned with the Islamist-dominated parliament deployed in the Libyan capital Thursday, raising the specter of an all-out war with forces loyal to a renegade former general who wants the legislative body disbanded.
Known collectively as the Libya Central Shield, the militias from the western city of Misurata were heeding a call by the head of parliament, Nouri Abu Sahmein, to protect Tripoli after gunmen loyal to the ex-general, Khalifa Hifter, stormed it Sunday.
It marked the first time the Libya Central Shield has deployed to Tripoli since November, when its fighters opened fire on peaceful protesters outside their base, sparking clashes that left more than 40 dead and hundreds wounded.
The group’s main rivals, the Qaqa and Sawaiq brigades from the western city of Zintan, have allied with Hifter, threatening a confrontation in Tripoli between two of the country’s most powerful militia forces.
The deployment is the latest development in a long-brewing crisis that ignited Friday when Hifter led a fierce assault on Islamist militias in the eastern city of Benghazi. More than 70 were killed in the fighting, the heaviest in the country since the 2011 revolt that deposed autocrat Moammar Gaddafi.
The former general who is leading an armed uprising in Libya proposed Wednesday that an emergency government be named to resolve what may be the country’s most serious political crisis since the overthrow of Moammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Khalifa Hifter made the appeal at a news conference in the eastern city of Benghazi, appearing with several former military leaders who have joined his revolt. He has steadily picked up support in recent days from current and former military officers and the militias that dominate many cities.
Hifter has characterized his campaign as an assault on terrorism. He has demanded that Libya’s Islamist-led parliament, known as the General National Council, be disbanded. On Wednesday, he called on the country’s Higher Judicial Council to name an emergency civilian government that would hand over power to parliament after new elections for that body scheduled for June 25.
But his opponents showed no sign of giving in. Ahmed Matiq, named prime minister two weeks ago in a disputed vote, said Wednesday that he will not quit his post. He comes from Misurata, a western city that is home to powerful militias aligned with Islamists in parliament.
Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry issued a statement calling for the arrest of any soldiers who join Hifter’s campaign.