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After Over A Year In Egyptian Prison, Freed Journalist Recalls His Nightmare

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Journalist Mohamed Fahmy and his two colleagues Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed spent over a year in Egyptian prisons. Greste was recently deported to Australia. Mohamed Fahmy was the Cairo bureau chief for Al-Jazeera English. He says the only crime he committed was journalism. He's out on bail now pending a retrial on charges of terrorism. Fahmy spoke with NPR's Leila Fadel about the case that upended his life and caused an international outcry over freedom of expression.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Fahmy's been out of prison less than two days. He stands in his parent's living room and laughs with friends and his fiancee. And then he sits down for an interview and recounts what he calls the nightmare of the last 14 months.

MOHAMED FAHMY: It was one month in a dark, dingy cell infested with insects, no light, no watches to tell time.

FADEL: Fahmy says at first he was locked up with hardcore militant Islamists. And then he and his colleagues, three well-respected journalists, were convicted on terrorism charges in what human rights organizations called a sham trial. He felt vindicated when the charges were overturned by Egypt's highest court last month, citing lack of evidence and saying they should not have been charged in a terrorism court because they didn't commit violent crimes.

FAHMY: So why are we still going to retrial? It's the same charges, the same accusations, the same evidence. It just doesn't make any sense that I'm back in the cage again.

FADEL: He refers to the prosecution cage he'll return to in an Egyptian courtroom on February 23 accused of crimes he says he didn't commit. Now that he's home, he's relishing the moments he's missed for a long time.

FAHMY: I came home and basically just hung out with the mother, my mom, my dad. And we just reflected on the insanity that we've been through for a year and was just walking around the house and looking at the bed and enjoying the fact that I don't have a cop watching me 24 hours a day.

FADEL: But he knows this freedom could be temporary if the court decides to convict him and Baher Mohamed again.

FAHMY: We are still living in this nightmare.

FADEL: Fahmy, who was a Canadian-Egyptian, had hoped he would be deported to Canada after security officials visited him in prison and told him to drop his Egyptian citizenship so he could be extradited. It was the only way, they said, so he did it begrudgingly. But when his colleague Greste was deported earlier this month and he was not, he said he knew he'd made a mistake. And he says Canada didn't make the same efforts the Australians made to protect their citizens.

FAHMY: I am angry and I am planning to get it back. I feel that I was betrayed by this deal.

FADEL: Although he's free, Fahmy still has to register every day at a police station as the case continues. His life is stalled and he knows his freedom may be taken away again. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo. 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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