Verdict Due Monday For 3 Al Jazeera Journalists In Cairo

An Egyptian court will issue a verdict Monday in the case of three journalists who have been in jail for months. Correspondent Leila Fadel talks to NPR's Lynn Neary about the controversial case.

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LYNN NEARY, HOST:

In Egypt, it's been nearly six months since Al Jazeera English journalist Baher Mohammed, Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy have been behind bars. And tomorrow, a Cairo court decides their fate. The case has triggered international outcry and is seen as a test of Egypt's shrinking capacity for freedom of speech. NPR's Leila Fadel recently visited one of the three, Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy. She joins us now from Cairo. Thanks for being with us, Leila.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Thank you.

NEARY: Leila, can you remind us - what are these three journalists accused of?

FADEL: They're accused of basically being or aiding terrorists. They're also accused of falsifying news and trying to harm the image of Egypt. Accusations that, of course, these men deny as does their channel, and accusations that really haven't been proved in court at all. The evidence we've seen are run-of-the-mill videos of reporting that really all journalists in Egypt do.

NEARY: Now, I understand that you recently visited one of the three, Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy. Tell us about that.

FADEL: Well, we waited for him just at the hospital entrance and a police vehicle pulled up with him in a box-like cage on the back of a truck.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIREN)

FADEL: And you could see that his family, his mother and his fiancee - it was very difficult to see him walk out of that truck. Him quickly being able to hug his mother before he goes upstairs to check his injured shoulder, which he says has been damaged in a way that can't be fixed. He can't lift it above his head at this point.

NEARY: And did you actually get a chance to talk with him?

FADEL: We did. And you could see that he's very anxious about what will happen tomorrow when a verdict is expected to decide their fate. He's very worried that they'll stay inside with what he described as delusional members of the Muslim Brotherhood that think that Morsi will come back.

NEARY: So what are we expecting tomorrow when the verdict is announced?

FADEL: Well, at this point, it's very unclear. At the last session of the trial, Mohamed Fahmy addressed the court and addressed the judge and he had this to say.

MOHAMMED FAHMY: This court is a political case. We are political prisoners.

FADEL: You know, he's very worried that they will be punished as a pawn over a spat between Egypt and the gulf country of Qatar, which is seen as supporting the ousted Muslim Brotherhood here. He's worried that his life will come to an end in many ways as his family is. Especially because of the many many trials that have gone on here and harsh punishments over things like protesting that no evidence was presented over.

NEARY: What are the implications of this for freedom of speech in Egypt now?

FADEL: Well, the implications aren't good. Amnesty International is talking about how politicized the courts are, how little space there is for dissent. And prosecuting journalists in this way with charges of terrorism and falsifying news sets a dangerous precedent, especially if they're convicted tomorrow.

NEARY: And what does this say about the current government in Egypt and its position on freedom of speech?

FADEL: Well, there are lots of international appeals from human rights groups and governments saying to let these guys go as goodwill and a show of faith that freedom of expression is valued in this new Egypt under this new president. So the concern here is what precedent does this set? Does this mean that journalists can be jailed over perceived misinterpretations of the facts? So it's a really dangerous precedent that may be set tomorrow and we'll see what happens for these three men.

NEARY: NPR's Leila Fadel in Cairo. Thanks so much for being with us.

FADEL: Thank you.

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