After nearly two years in an Egyptian prison, former Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy is back home in Canada, just in time to slam the way Prime Minister Stephen Harper handled his case ahead of the federal election next week.
"There are no words to describe how it feels when you are wrongfully convicted and sitting in a cold cell, infested with insects, nurturing a broken shoulder," Fahmy told a room of reporters at a press conference Tuesday at Ryerson University in Toronto. "But when you're there, your only hope is that your prime minister will do everything in his power to get you out of there."
Fahmy, formerly bureau chief for Al Jazeera English in Cairo, and two of his colleagues were arrested by Egyptian authorities in 2013. In a retrial this year that was widely condemned by human rights advocates as an affront to freedom of expression, Fahmy was sentenced to three years in prison for spreading "false news" and for being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a terrorist group in the eyes of the Egyptian government.
Fahmy went on to say he felt "betrayed and abandoned" when he realized Harper was not doing everything in his power to get him out. He accused the Harper government of being too soft on Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and not appealing to him personally to get him out of prison sooner. Fahmy also blames former foreign affairs minister John Baird for sabotaging his chance at being deported from Egypt, along with his Australian colleague Peter Greste, months before he was eventually pardoned by Sisi last month.
"You do know who I'm not voting for, that's for sure," Fahmy quipped.
Until earlier this year, Fahmy, who was born in Cairo, held dual Egyptian-Canadian citizenship. He renounced his Egyptian citizenship in hopes Egypt would deport him as a foreign national.
"The biggest mistake the Harper government did was that they didn't understand the urgency of the situation," Fahmy told VICE News in an interview later on Tuesday. "They had this sort of approach that we couldn't understand. It wasn't even quiet diplomacy. We just didn't get it."
A spokesperson for the Conservative Party told the CBC in an email that Harper telephoned and sent several letters to the Egyptian president pushing for Fahmy's release.
Fahmy met with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau on Monday evening to discuss how the government could better protect Canadians abroad. He also met with opposition leader Thomas Mulcair on Tuesday afternoon to thank him for "directly questioning Mr. Harper in Parliament for the mild stance" toward his case.
According to Fahmy, no one from Harper's camp has reached out to him since he was pardoned. "But they're more than welcome to contact me," he said.
Now that Fahmy is back home, he says he will continue working with the foundation he started while in prison that advocates on behalf journalists imprisoned for crimes they didn't commit.
A case of particular interest for him is that of Mohammed Rasool, a journalist and fixer for VICE News who was detained in Turkey in August and charged with terrorism-related offenses. Rasool's imprisonment has been condemned by international human rights groups including Amnesty International.
Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne