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Out Of Egypt, A Massive Pardon Of Political Prisoners


We're getting news this morning of a massive pardon of mostly political prisoners in Egypt. Among the dozens of human rights activists pardoned by Egypt's president were also journalists, including three from Al-Jazeera, whose trials and imprisonment had caused an international outcry over freedom of expression. You have heard one of those journalists on this program, Mohamed Fahmy. He's a Canadian citizen who along with an Egyptian colleague, Baher Mohamed, had spent over a year in an Egyptian jail. We're joined now by NPR's Leila Fadel for more.

Good morning.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: And describe to us how you heard the news and what exactly is going on.

FADEL: The presidency office issued a statement that said he had pardoned a hundred people today on humanitarian, health - on humanitarian and health grounds, as well as pardoning people who were arrested under a controversial law that basically bans protesting. And as the names began to leak out, we realized that the two Al-Jazeera journalists that remain in prison inside Egypt are among the people who've been pardoned.

MONTAGNE: And that means that they are out of prison and don't face anymore prison time?

FADEL: So that means they will be getting out of prison. They were convicted to - one got three years, the other, three and a half years for broadcasting unlicensed and for airing things that Egypt decided would harm the nation. This was a case that caused international outcry. There were originally accused of being basically terrorists inside Egypt for what was really proven to be doing their jobs - notebooks, computers, things like that were used against them. And so this became a symbolic case talking about what type of limits there have - there are now on freedom of expression inside Egypt.

MONTAGNE: And has the government, the Egyptian government, given any indication of why exactly these pardons now?

FADEL: Well, this case in particular has been particularly embarrassing for Egypt. It's a case that so many in the world have condemned as an example of limiting freedom of speech, stopping people from criticizing Egypt, of a court system that's being used to tamp down any type of dissent inside Egypt. And so I think this may be part of that. And among the others that were released are also activists that human rights groups have been campaigning for that were arrested under laws that are seen as draconian.

MONTAGNE: What exactly does this suggest for freedom of expression there in Egypt, going forward?

FADEL: Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed are not the only journalists in jail in Egypt. There are 22 others at least, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. And there's also thousands of prisoners of conscience - political prisoners, if you will, that are under arrest for being opponents to the government, for criticizing the government. And so this doesn't mean that now freedom of expression is totally fine inside Egypt. This didn't happen in a vacuum. There are 100 people out of thousands if not tens of thousands that are sitting in Egyptian jails.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Leila Fadel, speaking to us from our London bureau. 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.
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
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