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Court In Egypt Jails Al-Jazeera Journalists After Retrial


Let's pursue the question now of whether two Al-Jazeera English journalists could really spend three years or more in prison. They are Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, and they went straight back to jail over the weekend after a conviction in an Egyptian court. NPR's Leila Fadel is in Cairo and joins us now. Hi, Leila.


INSKEEP: Let's remember here that they're journalists. Many news organizations around the world, including NPR, have taken the view that they are in fact journalists. But the court found instead, well, what?

FADEL: Well, basically, the judge said these are not journalists, and they said he sent them to jail. He said they fabricated news and that they were using unlicensed equipment, even after a committee inside his courtroom said that there was no evidence of fabricating news. So, essentially, they were given three years in jail with - for what would be a misdemeanor - not having a licensed piece of equipment. And so it was a really shocking day. Most people thought they would walk free on Saturday, and instead, they went back to jail, not being able to say goodbye to their families.

INSKEEP: And I ask this knowing that you've covered Egypt for years, that you're working as a journalist there - how does this case fit in with the broader treatment of journalists in Egypt right now?

FADEL: Well, it's really become somewhat of a difficult environment for independent journalists and for foreign journalists. This was seen by many as a message to foreign journalists that you can't criticize the government. There's a new counterterrorism law that carries steep, steep fines for anybody that contradicts state narratives right now. So it's not an environment where dissent or criticism is really accepted or tolerated.

INSKEEP: And this is this situation in which these two were convicted.

What have they been able to say about this, if anything?

FADEL: Well, they haven't been able to talk to anyone. They were taken right back behind bars. But before this verdict happened, Baher Mohamed, who's a father of three, said he celebrated his son's first birthday, gave his kids presents and kisses, knowing that he might not go back home. And prior to the convention, also, Mohamed Fahmy spoke to NPR, and here's what he said.

MOHAMED FAHMY: The three of us, we continue to fight this tragic situation until we're all home free. We are paying the price for a political rift between Egypt and Qatar. There's no secret.

FADEL: He's referring to himself, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed. Greste was convicted in absentia. And he's saying that they're a part of really a politicized case because Egypt and Qatar don't get along right now and Al-Jazeera is owned by Qatar.

INSKEEP: OK, and now this essential question - could they really be in prison for years given everything you've just told us?

FADEL: Well, this has been a long, drawn out process. They've already spent over a year in prison because this is their second trial. And now they have one more appeal left that has to go to the highest court in the country, which could take months. They also have asked for a pardon from the president, and Mohamed Fahmy, who is Canadian, is asking for deportation. They don't want to spend another night in jail, but this case has been unpredictable, and, you know, it's very possible. We don't know what will happen.

INSKEEP: Leila, thanks very much.

FADEL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Leila Fadel in Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.