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Al Jazeera's Mohamed Fahmy Waits To Hear If He Faces More Prison Time


A very different trial continues to unfold in Egypt. Three journalists from the news channel Al-Jazeera English are awaiting a verdict on whether they will be sent back to prison on charges of false reporting and conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt deems a terrorist organization. Al-Jazeera says its journalists did nothing more than report the news. The three spent more than a year in prison before an earlier conviction was overturned. In the retrial, they expected to hear the verdict last Friday and then yesterday, but it keeps getting postponed. Defendant Mohamed Fahmy was Al-Jazeera's Cairo bureau chief when he was arrested. We reached him in Cairo. Good morning.

MOHAMED FAHMY: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Do you have a feeling at all about what the verdict might be?

FAHMY: Well, I am very worried, and my family and my colleagues are extremely worried because this is the first time in a very long time that a verdict has been postponed twice in one week. So we are very worried that it might be a harsh verdict, and we believe the postponement is due to the fact that John Kerry was here yesterday, and the verdict was supposed to be announced yesterday. So we think that they did not want any bad publicity leading up to the verdict day.

Our families are devastated. We are worried. We don't sleep. We don't eat right, you know? We have been going through this 19-month tormenting experience, and we want it to conclude. But eventually, like what happened yesterday, now the verdict is on August 29. So it's another month of waiting for charges that are absurd.

MONTAGNE: And you have an experience with what it would mean to go back to prison.

FAHMY: Oh, that would be hell in every way because, you know, prison we were thrown in in the terrorist wing with ISIS fighters, al-Qaida fighters and jihadists that have no respect for humanity or democracy. And to throw a journalist in there with these people, it's pretty tough. And these kind of prisons have no life, no outing. It's not clean in there, and it's just a very tough experience that no one wants to go through again. I've spent a year and a half in that prison. And yesterday, when I went to court, I brought a small bag that had my deodorant, my slippers, some towels just in case. You can imagine what sort of stress we're going through.

MONTAGNE: Well, I understand that you actually just got married a few days ago - and congratulations - but in light of the possibility that you may be separated, the two of you.

FAHMY: Yes, it's very hectic. Marwa has been my hero. She stood beside me from day one, and the fact that we're married, that means she gets to visit me more often in prison. But we couldn't have a wedding because how do you celebrate when you know that days later, you could be in prison, and you're dealing with a court that respects nothing?

MONTAGNE: You were born in Egypt, but you were not raised there. You were mostly raised in Canada. What took you back?

FAHMY: I left Canada as soon as the war in Iraq in 2003 started. I just wanted to be where, you know, the hot spot, where the real journalism that related to conflict zones. And I've been in that region here for 15 years almost, doing my job, covering the Arab Spring, Syria, Libya, Iraq and Egypt for the past three years. I would say that in 2011, everybody was hopeful that the country would enjoy more of democracy. However, now it's not the dream that I envisioned for Egypt here, and it's not the democracy I wanted here. And I do hope that things get better because this country does have a lot of potential. At the moment, though, I just need to gather together myself in order to be able to work again as a journalist when I am, you know, recuperated from this horrific experience.

MONTAGNE: Mohamed Fahmy is Cairo bureau chief for Al-Jazeera English. He's awaiting the verdict in his retrial on terrorism-related charges. Thank you very much for talking with us.

FAHMY: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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