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Canadian journalist convicted in Egypt in 'terrible state of mind,' family says

Mohammed Fahmy, Canadian-Egyptian acting bureau chief of Al-Jazeera, appears in a defendant's cage at a courtroom in Cairo, Egypt, May 5, 2014. The family of Fahmy, convicted on terrorism-related charges by a Cairo court, says the 40-year-old is in a

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Mohammed Fahmy, Canadian-Egyptian acting bureau chief of Al-Jazeera, appears in a defendant's cage at a courtroom in Cairo, Egypt, May 5, 2014. The family of Fahmy, convicted on terrorism-related charges by a Cairo court, says the 40-year-old is in a "terrible state of mind." THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Hamada Elrasam

Mohamed Fahmy is now made to wear the navy blue prison uniform that marks those convicted by Egyptian courts.

The new clothing is just one change that reinforces last week's stunning verdict in the Egyptian-Canadian journalist's case — a turn of events which has left him in a "terrible state of mind," his family said.

"He was absolutely demoralized, very down, quite pessimistic towards how things will progress," Fahmy's brother, Adel Fahmy, told The Canadian Press on Wednesday after the family's first prison visit since the verdict in Cairo.

Fahmy was working for Qatar-based satellite news broadcaster Al-Jazeera English when he was arrested along with two colleagues — Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed — on Dec. 29.

The trio were accused of supporting the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group of ousted president Mohammed Morsi, which Egypt's current government has declared a terrorist group. They were also charged with fabricating footage to undermine Egypt's national security.

The journalists repeatedly denied all the allegations against them and contended they were just doing their jobs.

Yet after a trial which Fahmy's family said was marked with mistakes and delays, the journalists were convicted and Fahmy was sentenced to seven years in prison.

"We were shattered when we heard the verdict. It was a complete shock," Fahmy's brother said. "We cannot accept it, we just cannot accept it. We have to keep the faith that something has to happen."

Fahmy's family is taking the case to an appeal court, pursuing a presidential pardon and is also hoping international pressure might result in an exceptional overturning of the conviction.

But Fahmy isn't putting much stock into his family's latest efforts just yet.

"He doesn't want to put too much hope again into anything," his brother said. "He's just feeling that they're a very important card for Egypt in their battle or conflict with Qatar."

Some observers have suggested Fahmy's case forms part of the Egyptian government's efforts to target Qatar, which was a close ally of the ousted Morsi. Egyptian authorities accused Qatar-based Al-Jazeera of bias toward the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi, allegations the network denies.

The sensitive relationship between the two countries has been acknowledged as a complication by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who has said "bullhorn diplomacy" won't win Fahmy's release. Baird has added that Canada is pursuing all legal avenues to secure Fahmy's freedom.

The Canadian government has been criticized for not using language as tough as that from the United States, Britain and Australia, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said Canada has "deep concerns" about the case which have been expressed to the Egyptian government.

Fahmy's brother said the Canadian ambassador in Egypt has met twice with his family since the verdict while officials continue to provide consular support.

"He's reassuring us that a lot is being done," Fahmy's brother said. "He's telling us that definitely they are working on very important things, but of course not everything can be shared."

For the immediate future, Fahmy is having to adjust to a series of changes — he's been shifted to a different prison along with his two colleagues, where they are now housed in a cell with seven other convicts. The three journalists are also now entitled to fewer family visits.

But Fahmy is also now allowed to study towards a university degree behind bars and has expressed a desire to attain one in international diplomacy, his brother said.

"He's always been interested in diplomacy and politics, and he's a journalist at the same time covering all the important events so I think it's all linked together," Fahmy's brother said. "He has to make use of his time, which we hope will not be too long."

Fahmy — whose family moved to Canada in 1991 — lived in Montreal and Vancouver for years before eventually moving abroad for work, which included covering stories for the New York Times and CNN.

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