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Egyptian Journalist Trial Is Long On Jail Time — But Short On Proof


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish. In Cairo today, three journalists with the al-Jazeera English channel were back in court. They're accused of being terrorists and spreading false information and it's a case causing international condemnation. The journalists have now been in jail for more than 100 days, part of a wide crackdown on Islamists, critics of the government and the press.

NPR's Leila Fadel was in the courtroom today and joins us now. And Leila, let's start with a little background. Remind us how things got to this point.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Well, in December, three al-Jazeera journalists were arrested: Peter Greste, an Australian correspondent for the channel and award-winning journalist, Mohammed Fahmy, an Egyptian-Canadian journalist, also award-winning and Baher Mohammed, an Egyptian producer with the channel. They, along with 17 others were charged with an incredible amount of accusations, including being or aiding terrorists and falsifying news that would hurt Egypt.

CORNISH: What happened in court today?

FADEL: Well, today was supposed to be the day that they presented the really hard evidence against the defendants, the videos, and as they were showing the so-called evidence, it ended up being footage from other news channels, from SkyNews Air, like of horses eating in Luxor, from Arabiya, a different Arabic channel, from Peter Greste's computer of reporting that he did in Kenya actually not for al-Jazeera English and family pictures.

And you could see Peter Greste sort of chuckling in the cage because he, you know, he was saying the case is falling apart and yet we're still in jail. And you say Mohammed Fahmy, the Egyptian-Canadian journalist saying it doesn't matter that we're innocent. Innocence is not enough. This is politicized. We're fed up.

CORNISH: Now, you've attended every session of this trial and every couple weeks these journalists are taken from jail to court. But given what you've just said about what happened today, I mean, how much evidence is really being presented here?

FADEL: That's really what human rights groups are asking. They're saying there is no evidence here. There is a lot of bad blood between the Gulf nation Qatar, which funds al-Jazeera and Egypt right now. Egypt feels that Qatar is funding and helping the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now banned and ousted here. And so these journalists say their being scapegoated. They don't even know the other defendants and there's a case trying to be created by the prosecution that just isn't there.

And the evidence that we've seen presented are witnesses from the state security services that haven't really said anything that back up the charges, saying they don't remember who had what. They don't remember what footage there was, those types of things. So really, nothing compelling has been presented and it's unclear why these men are still in jail.

CORNISH: You mentioned human rights groups watching this, but there has been a broader international pressure to release the journalists, but is there any sign that that will happen?

FADEL: Really, right now, they're isn't a sign that they will be released. Repeatedly, they've been denied bail and they've said, we'll give you our passports, just let us out and that hasn't happened. There have been letters from the interim president here saying he'll do everything to make sure this is a fair trial and these people are reunited with their families, indicating that he might give a pardon.

But right now, in these court proceedings, quietly, even the defense lawyers are saying they're not sure this is going well and this will go in the direction of an acquittal.

CORNISH: So Leila, how is this case being perceived in Egypt?

FADEL: There really isn't that much sympathy with these defendants. There is a lot of partisan press here, a lot of Egyptians saying we need a strong state. We need to go after what they see as terrorists. There's a lot of instability here. And so despite the fact that this is only one trial in many, many people being convicted on little to no evidence, there really isn't that much domestic outcry over these abuses.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Leila Fadel in Cairo. Leila, thank you.

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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