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Egypt Court Sentences 3 Al-Jazeera Journalists To 3-Year Prison Terms


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Three Al Jazeera English journalists, Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste, have been sentenced to up to three years and six months in prison. Their sentences were announced at an Egyptian courtroom today, a controversial case that's dragged on for nearly two years. Peter Greste was deported and sentenced in absentia in this retrial.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

SIMON: After the judge read his decision, Mohamed Fahmy's wife burst into tears, and she called for justice. NPR's Leila Fadel was in the courtroom and joins us. Leila, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: And what happened today?

FADEL: Well, the judge came in and declared that the three men were proven not to be journalists, that they were operating illegally, that they were fabricating news and then sentenced them to three years to two of the journalists, and one journalist got three years and six months.

Now, this decision wasn't fully unexpected, but it was shocking. There had been indications that the government wanted this to go away, but now Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy are back in jail. Amnesty International called the two trials - this is the retrial for the three men - an affront to justice that sound the death knell for freedom of expression in Egypt.

SIMON: What was the reaction in the courtroom?

FADEL: It was shock. Lawyers were really expecting that the pair might be not be exonerated, but maybe given a suspended sentence or convicted and given time served. The case has really caused a global outrage. It's dragged on for more than 18 months. It's attracted the interest of high-profile lawyers like Amal Clooney who was in court today with Fahmy. She said that they would be pushing for a presidential pardon now. And the family of both defendants were shocked. I'll let you listen for a moment to Marwa Omara who is Fahmy's wife.

MARWA OMARA: I don't know how I'm going to survive this without him. He really did nothing. All what I'm asking is justice.

FADEL: Now, Al Jazeera also issued a statement saying that the verdict defied logic, that the trial was heavily politicized, and they would be continuing to fight.

SIMON: Can the decision be appealed?

FADEL: They do have one appeal left. Once they appeal, the trial will go to the highest court in Egypt and be tried again. So that means their ordeal continues. They had been out on bail. Baher Mohamed had spent yesterday celebrating the birthday of his son who was born while he was in jail, and now today he won't be with his kids again tonight. So their ordeal continues here in Egypt.

SIMON: And Leila, is this an isolated case?

FADEL: No, I mean, Amnesty International says over 20 journalists are in jail in Egypt, and it's not just journalists that are in jail in Egypt. There are thousands of people in prison here - in prison just because they criticized the regime or are seen as dissenters inside Egypt. So this is happening during a wide crackdown on journalists, on critics of the state, on NGOs - this isn't happening in a vacuum, and today many people say this was not only a message to the media, to critics of the state, but especially a message to the foreign press.

SIMON: NPR's Leila Fadel speaking with us from Cairo. Thanks very much for being with us.

FADEL: Thank you. 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.
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