A Vancouver law firm is at the centre of a new organization supporting press freedom around the world.
The Fahmy Foundation was officially launched on March 5. It's headquartered out of an office in East Vancouver on Gore Avenue.
The group’s founder, Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, was released on bail from a Cairo prison on February 12. He remains in Egypt awaiting a retrial on baseless charges related to terrorism.
Fahmy was arrested in August 2013 while covering the Arab Spring for Al Jazeera English. He has so-far spent 411 days in prison. Since then, Fahmy has renounced his Egyptian citizenship as part of a deal that could see him deported. He and his fiancée, Marwa Omara, have said they intend to settle in Vancouver.
In a telephone interview, Joanna Gislason, a foundation board member and partner at Caroline + Gislason Lawyers LLP, said the group is expanding their work beyond Fahmy’s case.
“Part of Mohamed‘s dream while he was in prison was to do something positive for other journalists that found themselves in the same circumstance that he was in, wrongfully imprisoned for doing his job and desperate for support and for attention from the outside world,” she told the Straight.
Gislason said the foundation is already advocating for the release of Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zied. Shawkan, as he is better known, was also arrested in August 2013. He has remained imprisoned in Egypt despite having never been charged with a crime.
“It’s a reflection of Mohamed’s commitment to freedom of speech and a recognition of the challenges that journalists are facing around the world in terms of having that freedom repressed,” Gislason said.
According to a March 5 media release, the foundation’s primary objectives are to advocate for press freedom and to provide financial assistance to journalists imprisoned around the world.
Quoted there, Fahmy notes funds donated to the foundation will not go to pay his legal fees but will instead be used to help Shawkan.
“Too many journalists are being wrongly thrown into prison, effectively silencing their voices,” Fahmy said. “Hundreds of support letters lifted my morale in prison yet equally important was the money donated from honourable people and media defence organizations alike. Only then, was I able to pay the majority of my legal fees. Our mission is to give back, advocate for and financially support imprisoned journalists and their families.”
In 2014, 61 reporters and photographers were killed with a confirmed motive related to their work in journalism, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). That’s down from 70 killed in 2013 and 74 in 2012. However, it compares to an average of 48 journalists killed annually through the first decade of the 2000s.
As of March 6, CPJ had recorded 17 journalists killed in 2015.
“There has never been a more dangerous time for journalists, with record numbers killed and imprisoned around the world,” reads the opening statement of CPJ’s most-recent annual report.