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Egypt Frees One Al-Jazeera Journalist From Prison


This morning, there is news from Egypt. After many months in an Egyptian prison, Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste is free. This morning, Egypt's state news agency announced that Greste will be deported to his home country of Australia. He was arrested on charges of aiding a terrorist group and sentenced to seven years in prison. NPR's Leila Fadel is in Cairo. She joins us now. Good morning, Leila.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So Peter Greste has been in prison for more than a year. He was arrested in December 2013. Why then is he being released now? What do you know?

FADEL: Well, this has been a hugely embarrassing case for the Egyptian government. A lot of international pressure has been put on the government to release these three men. It is seen as a test of freedom of speech in Egypt. He was released under a recently passed law that allows for the Egyptian government to deport foreigners accused or convicted of crimes in this country. And so with the approval of the president, Peter Greste has finally been released and is on his way home.

MARTIN: Can you remind us, what were the circumstances of his arrest?

FADEL: Well, he and two of his colleagues, one an Egyptian-Canadian - Mohamed Fahmy - and one an Egyptian - Baher Mohamed - were detained in December of 2013. They were accused of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood of being - of aiding or being terrorists. And the evidence that was presented in court was really just evidence of them doing journalism.

This has come out of a bad relationship between Egypt and the Gulf nation of Qatar, which owns the Al Jazeera news network. And really it's been a very difficult time for the families of these three men who say they're just journalists.

MARTIN: So what does all this mean for the other two men, the other two journalists, Greste's colleagues who were arrested with him and remain imprisoned?

FADEL: Well, at this point, that's unclear. Mohamed Fahmy is an Egyptian-Canadian and also could possibly be deported under the same law. It is clear that he has applied for that. But it's not clear if he's also being deported today, if that process is underway. But Baher Mohamed is of the most concern to his company and to his family because he is Egyptian. He cannot be deported. And even though their conviction was overturned on appeal, Baher Mohamed received the most difficult sentence of 10 years. And so he may have to stand trial again. So it's really unclear what will happen to either of them. Al Jazeera English expressed relief that Peter Greste has been released, but called on Egypt to release the other two men today.

MARTIN: Leila, there was so much international attention around the arrest of these three journalists. How is this - how has it been playing out in Egypt, in the Egyptian press?

FADEL: Well, here, there really is a lot of anger towards Al Jazeera. People see it as pro-Muslim Brotherhood, the organization that was ousted from power that is now banned in Egypt and whose top leadership and many of its members have been systematically really repressed here. So there hasn't been a huge amount of sympathy for these three men despite what was seen as really a sham trial by international organizations. And so that has been the most difficult thing so far because there's very little public support for the three men in jail.

MARTIN: NPR's Leila Fadel in Cairo talking to us about the release of Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste. Thanks so much, Leila.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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