January 15, 2015 / 9:35 AM / 5 years ago

Canadian minister hopes for Jazeera reporter's release after Cairo talks

CAIRO (Reuters) - Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said after “constructive” talks in Cairo on Thursday he hoped that a Canadian journalist working for Al Jazeera television could be released before long from an Egyptian prison.

Al Jazeera journalist Mohammed Fahmy stands behind bars at a court in Cairo May 15, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy, Egyptian Baher Mohamed and Australian Peter Greste were sentenced last June to between seven and 10 years for spreading lies to help a “terrorist organization”, a reference to Egypt’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in November the issue of a presidential pardon was under discussion. Egypt’s High Court ordered a retrial of the men on Jan. 1.

Baird sounded cautiously optimistic after talks with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shukri.

“I would characterize the meeting as constructive and worthwhile, and we look forward to resolving that issue. It’s still not resolved today, but that’s why I came,” he told a news conference.

Rights groups and Western governments have criticized the detentions. Al Jazeera says the trial was flawed and has demanded the journalists’ release.

Baird seemed hopeful that Fahmy could be released soon.

“We’re working toward a constructive resolution on that sooner rather than later,” he said.

Fahmy, in a statement released by his lawyers, urged Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to intervene directly.

“My situation and the ongoing legal limbo that I am enduring affects all Canadians who are in the Middle East because it shows that anyone, regardless of how innocent, can become a victim of the political turbulence here,” he said.

Fahmy’s fiancee, Marwa Omara, said he had signed documents required for deportation and she was told the process was in its final stages.

“I had high expectations that Mohamed might be released during Mr. Baird’s visit, but I understand... it’s going to take some time,” she said after a 15-minute meeting with Baird.

Qatar was one of the main supporters of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood during their year in power before his government was ousted by Sisi, then army chief, in July 2013.

Egypt has accused Al Jazeera of being a mouthpiece for the now-banned Brotherhood, which the channel denies.

Sisi met a Qatari envoy last month, the latest step in diplomatic efforts led by Saudi Arabia to help patch up ties.

Shukri told Reuters this week a decision by the Doha-based channel to halt broadcasts last month of its Egypt-focused operation Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr, whose content angered Cairo, would help improve strained ties with Qatar.

Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Mark Trevelyan/Hugh Lawson

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