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After Nearly 2 Years In Egyptian Prison, Journalist Feels 'Born Again'


While Egypt's security crackdown continues to fill its jails, last week, more than a hundred prisoners were given pardons - a tradition there which is part of a religious celebration. Among them were two journalists whose case became an international cause after they were arrested nearly two years ago. Reporting for Al Jazeera, the two journalists had met with members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood and then the Egyptian government charged and convicted them of aiding a terrorist organization.

We've been checking in with one of those men, Mohamed Fahmy. He gave up his dual Egyptian citizenship during his legal ordeal. And when we reached him again in Cairo, he was preparing to move back home to Canada.

Welcome back to the program.

MOHAMED FAHMY: Thank you so much for having me. I do feel like I'm born again now that I'm free after two years of a very grueling experience - 411 days on the first time behind bars and then sentenced again, spent 27 days. So that pardon came at the right time - very happy guy now.

MONTAGNE: Well, I'm glad to hear that. But I'm curious. The last time we spoke, there was a little bit of hope that the court might rule something like time served. There was shock by a lot of people that you were sentenced to three years, and then shock to be suddenly pardoned and immediately released. It's about a week into your freedom. You know, what is your life like at this exact moment in time?

FAHMY: Indeed, the night before the sentencing, when I went to court, I was speaking to you on the radio and I never thought that I would be sentenced. So in the courtroom, my lawyer, Amal Clooney, and my wife were sitting right there beside me, and I told them I'll be back in five minutes. And I entered the cage thinking that, indeed, I will be freed and I would not be convicted.

So when it happened, it was really, really tough for me. But now I am a free man, and I'm enjoying the simple things in life. And I'm preparing myself to go back to Canada. Me and my wife are packing. I'm trying to remove my name off the no-fly list here, which is not a big deal. It's just a matter of documentation. And I will be flying to London and Canada within the next week.

MONTAGNE: Well, I gather that you began working on a mission - a charter of rights for journalists. What's that all about?

FAHMY: Yes, I've been working on this charter of rights to better protect journalists in Egypt from prosecution, Western journalists specifically. And I will be advocating globally. I founded a foundation in Vancouver with my lawyers, and we'll be advocating for Jason Rezaian in Iran. We have been doing so for quite a while, actually. And for Mohammed al-Ajami, the Qatari poet, serving 15 years in Qatar for a poem and Mohammad Shawkan, in Egypt, the photographer. You know, so it's really important for me because I've been through this experience, and I know that the advocacy outside is what helped me get through the solitary confinement and imprisonment. So it's a very important part of my life now to help these journalists as well.

MONTAGNE: Well, do you see yourself reporting in the future from Egypt or from the Middle East?

FAHMY: Yes. You know us journalists, you know, you can't beat us or take us down. I'm more inspired than ever to continue to work in my job and just hope that this experience never happens to me again or anyone else.

MONTAGNE: Former Al Jazeera bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy is speaking to us from Cairo. Thank you very much for joining us again.

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

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
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