Mohammed el-Attar, the Egyptian-Canadian who has been in Egyptian custody since New Year’s Day on allegations of spying for Israel, was sentenced to 15 years in prison last week and fined $2,000.
The verdict concluded a trial that sparked sensational media reports in Egypt of el-Attar’s supposed conversion to Christianity, his queer lifestyle in Toronto and his family’s disownment of him.
El-Attar, who has denied being gay since his arrest, was taken into custody at Cairo International Airport after arriving on a flight from Toronto, reportedly to get married and start a family. He was denied access to a lawyer for more than a month and claims that during that time he was tortured into confessing to espionage. That confession was the only evidence against him made public during the trial.
Egyptian authorities argued that he used his position as an employee at a CIBC on Queen St W to pass on the banking information of Arabs living in Canada to Israel’s intelligence service, Mossad, in exchange for $56,000. He was accused of having been recruited by Mossad while he was living in Turkey, where he applied for and was granted refugee status in Canada.
Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay issued a press release in the wake of the verdict calling on Egypt to fully investigate el-Attar’s charges of torture and review his conviction.
“We have raised the issue of torture repeatedly with Egyptian authorities. We call upon Egypt to launch a prompt and impartial investigation into Mr Attar’s claims and to abide by the United Nations Convention Against Torture, to which it became party in 1986,” said MacKay.
“Under international human rights law, evidence obtained under torture is inadmissible and cannot be the basis for a conviction,” he added.
Both CIBC and the Canadian Security And Intelligence Service have refused to comment on whether they are investigating the espionage claims.
Canadian consular officials continue to have access to el-Attar, and have promised a reaction to the verdict, but would not specify what form that reaction would take.
While the consular visits may give el-Attar limited protection from torture while in detention, conditions in Egyptian prisons are known to be extremely poor. Human Rights Watch has noted that “human rights organizations continue to receive credible reports that security services and police routinely torture and mistreat detainees.”
As someone believed to be gay, he may also be targeted by guards and other prisoners for more abuse.
Despite his denial of being gay, el-Attar was well-known in Toronto’s gaybourhood, where he was better known by the name Joseph. He was reportedly disowned by his parents, who live in Vancouver, apparently in connection to his alleged homosexuality and the espionage charges.