An Egyptian court sentenced three Al Jazeera journalists to jail terms from seven to 10 years on Monday in a verdict denounced internationally as ‘chilling’ and ‘unjust’.
Australia’s Peter Greste and Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy each got seven years, while Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed received two sentences – one for seven years and another for three. Eleven defendants tried in absentia, including one Dutch journalist and two British journalists, were given 10-year sentences.
The verdict provoked an international outcry and raised fears of growing media restrictions in Egypt.
“Today’s conviction is obviously a chilling and draconian sentence,” US Secretary of State John Kerry told journalists in Baghdad, a day after he visited Cairo where he urged Egyptian leaders to uphold press freedom.
The Australian government said it was ‘shocked’ by the verdict. Al Jazeera chief Mustafa Sawaq said in Doha: “We condemn... this kind of unjust verdict. ... We are shocked.” Greste’s brother Andrew said he was devastated.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said she was ‘shocked and alarmed’ by the verdicts and urged a review of Egyptian laws.
In The Hague, Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said he had summoned Egypt’s ambassador and would raise the matter with his EU colleagues after Dutch journalist Rena Netjes, tried in absentia, “did not get a fair trial.” London also said it was summoning Cairo’s envoy.
The foreign ministry in Cairo, however, said Egypt’s ‘judiciary enjoys full independence’ and stressed that the defendants ‘still have the right to appeal’.
Of the six defendants in custody along with Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed, four were sentenced to seven years and two were acquitted. “They will pay for this. I promise!” Fahmy shouted after hearing the verdict.
All of the defendants had been accused of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and tarnishing Egypt’s reputation after the ouster of president Mohamed Mursi by ‘spreading false news’.
“All journalists should fear for themselves now that there is no justice. Politics is the master,” said defence lawyer Shaaban Saeed.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2014.
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