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Egyptian Court To Hear Journalists' Appeals On Jan. 1


Three journalists in Egypt are hoping the new year, 2015, will be the year they get out of prison. They're from the Al-Jazeera English network. They were arrested last year and spent all of 2014 in custody. On the 1 of January, their conviction on terrorism charges goes to appeal. Their imprisonment for what they say was just reporting caused an international outcry, and many news organizations including NPR demanded their release. NPR's Leila Fadel is on the line now from Cairo. And, Leila, is there any sign these men could finally get out?

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Well, it's really not clear. This appeal is one option, and if the verdict is overturned on January 1, then they have to go to another lengthy retrial. There are also other options for release that the families are hoping for - a possible pardon from the president or deportation, but that's only an option for foreign nationals. Peter Greste's Australian. He's a journalist. Mohamed Fahmy, the acting bureau chief at the time, is Egyptian-Canadian. He could also get deported if he renounces his Egyptian citizenship. But Baher Mohamed, who's an Egyptian, doesn't have that option, and many fear that even if the two foreign nationals get out, he'll have to remain in jail.

INSKEEP: Is there another option, essentially a diplomatic option? Because these men were working for Al-Jazeera which is based in Qatar, and that's a country that has been having warming relations with Egypt.

FADEL: That's right. Egypt and Qatar have had a bitter relationship for the last 18 months since the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood last summer. And these arrests followed that relationship. Egypt's angry at Qatar over support for the Islamists who once ruled here and for providing them refuge. But the last month has shown a thawing of that.

Saudi Arabia brokered a deal, a meeting, that went on here between the president and an envoy from Qatar. Qatar also shut down the Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr Network, which is a live stream network just on Egypt that Egypt sees as a mouthpiece for the Brotherhood. So there is hope that maybe with the thawing of this relationship, this case that many call political and really a cold war between Egypt and Qatar as family members have said, could change the outcome of these guys' destiny.

INSKEEP: I'm trying to figure out if this is actually a kind of war on the media here, Leila, because these guys were arrested for what they say was simply reporting. But you're there and reporting freely. Other people are there and reporting freely, and yet other people have been arrested. What's going on?

FADEL: Well, I think there are two things going on - there's a - the political dimension because of Egypt and Qatar's relationship. But also this is a country that, over the last 18 months, the window for freedom of expression and dissent has slowly been closing. These are not the only journalists in jail. There also Egyptian journalists in jail, bloggers. There are activists in jail. There are thousands of people who are in jail right now that are seen as political prisoners by rights activists. Civil society has suffered, has felt threatened that they might go to jail for voicing critiques of the current government. So this isn't happening in a bubble. This is happening in a political atmosphere that isn't open to freedom of expression.

INSKEEP: NPR's Leila Fadel is in Cairo. Thanks very much.

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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