After More Than 400 Days In Egyptian Jail, Journalists Released — For Now

Feb 12, 2015
Originally published on February 12, 2015 10:45 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Two more Al-Jazeera journalists have been released by an Egyptian court after spending more than 400 days in jail.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

GREENE: That's the reaction in the courtroom to the announcement. Now, while these journalists have been released, many Egyptians, people who've spoken out against the government or protested, remain behind bars. NPR's Leila Fadel was in the courtroom in Cairo when the two journalists were freed, and she's on the line. Leila, good morning.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So remind us about this case, if you can, and the judge's ruling this morning.

FADEL: Well, three Al-Jazeera English journalists were arrested about 411 days ago. They were accused of disseminating false news. They were accused of being members or aiding the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood. That's Australian journalist Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and an Egyptian, Baher Mohamed. Today, this is the retrial of their case after it was overturned basically for lack of evidence, and this judge ordered that they be released on bail, pending trial. And they were arrested and detained with students as well that were involved in this case.

GREENE: Peter Greste, the third journalist, was released earlier. Now we have these two being released today. Released on bail, but the case has not been dismissed, right?

FADEL: That's right. Mohamed Fahmy will have to pay about $30,000 to get out. The other men don't have to pay anything. But this case goes on. They're accused of the same things, accusations they deny, that really no evidence has been presented. And it's a case that has caused international outcry and has been a real embarrassment for the Egyptian government. The decision today comes on the heels of the deportation of Peter Greste earlier this month. And Mohamed Fahmy actually renounced his Egyptian citizenship because he was told maybe he could get deported, too.

GREENE: So explain that for us. That was a condition of the release that one of these journalists had to give up citizenship in Egypt?

FADEL: Well, basically a new law was passed to allow for foreigners accused or convicted of crimes in Egypt to be extradited to their home countries and tried there. And so Mohamed Fahmy was told, give up your citizenship, it's the only way out the way, the way that Peter Greste got out. And today, he said he was kind of forced to do that. It was a bit of an embarrassment. The lawyers kept saying, how can you send foreigners, strangers to this country, away and keep your own sons in jail?

GREENE: And we should say there are many Egyptians who are in jail. And we had you on the program yesterday talking about sort of the current climate. I mean, this is sort of a separate issue in a way because many people around the world said journalists should just never be thrown in jail for doing their job, but I guess it's worth remembering the larger context in this country right now.

FADEL: That's right. There are other journalists that still remain behind bars, some who've never been charged and been in jail more than 500 days. There are many political activists, dissidents who are sitting languishing in jail, being sentenced in mass sentencing, some of those being overturned on appeal, but this is a time where there's a real closing of a window on dissent.

GREENE: But I mean, even though this is just a few people, it had to be quite a scene in that courtroom. I mean, how did the families of these journalists react?

FADEL: It was just, like, a huge sense of relief, the way they reacted, all the families crying. Baher Mohamed, his wife told us she feels extreme happiness. He'll be able to come home and see his children, the son that was born while he was sitting in jail. Mohamed Fahmy's fiancee saying this nightmare is maybe almost over, that she's so just delighted that she might be able to see him and marry him outside of jail. They had expected to do their vows in prison.

GREENE: All right, we're speaking with NPR's Leila Fadel in Cairo about news this morning. Two more Al-Jazeera journalists have been released by an Egyptian court after spending more than 400 days in jail. Leila, thanks very much.

FADEL: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.