Al Jazeera journalists sentenced to 3 years in prison
Courtesy: Amir Makar
 

The Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed to three years in a maximum security prison. Mohamed was sentenced to an additional six months in prison and a LE5,000 fine.

The three-year sentence also included students Sohaib Said, Khaled Abdel Raouf and Shady Abdel Azim.

Two others, Khaled Abdel Rahman and Nora al-Banna, were acquitted of all charges.

The defendants were sentenced on charges of aiding a terrorist organization and spreading false news.

Mohamed, Fahmy and Greste were first arrested and detained on December 29, 2013 on suspicion of belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood and spreading false news harmful to national security. The journalists received verdicts of seven to 10 years in June 2014 and were detained for over a year.

They were granted a retrial in January 2015 and released the following month in the retrial’s first session on bail.

Australian journalist Greste however was released and deported days earlier in accordance with Law 140 (2014), which allows the deportation of foreigners at any point during their prosecution or detention at the request of their home countries.

Fahmy, who is Egyptian-Canadian, had also renounced his Egyptian citizenship in order to be deported as well.

The trial has spurred international outrage, with the initial verdict prompting statements by the White House, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and a number of international rights groups. In response, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had reiterated that he would “not interfere with judicial rulings.”

Following Saturday’s verdict, Greste tweeted that “shocked, outraged and angry,” do not convey how he feels about the verdict.

The verdict was condemned by Al Jazeera Media Network’s Acting Director General Mostefa Souag, saying it “defies logic and common sense.”

“The whole case has been heavily politicized and has not been conducted in a free and fair manner,” he said, according to a report by Al Jazeera.

“Today’s verdict is yet another deliberate attack on press freedom. It is a dark day for the Egyptian judiciary; rather than defend liberties and a free and fair media they have compromised their independence for political reasons,” he said.

In a statement released immediately following the verdicts, Amnesty International described the sentences as “an affront to justice that sound the death knell for freedom of expression in Egypt.”

Philip Luther, Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, called for the verdict to be overturned, and for Fahmy and Mohamed to be released.

“The fact that two of these journalists are now facing time in jail following two grossly unfair trials makes a mockery of justice in Egypt,” he said. “We consider them to be prisoners of conscience, jailed solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

The statement also referred to the sentencing of another group in the same case, including students who reported that they were tortured following their arrest last year. Amnesty called for an independent and impartial investigation into the defendants’ allegations of torture and ill-treatment.

“Today’s ruling is sadly only the tip of the iceberg. The Egyptian authorities are relentlessly cracking down on independent and critical media across the country to silence dissent – including foreign reporting. Dozens of journalists have been arrested over the past two years, and over 20 are today in detention,” said Philip Luther.

In another statement, Reporters Without Borders also condemned the “the disgraceful ‘political’ verdict,” Secretary General Christophe Deloire said.

He added that “this grossly unfair trial shows the blatant disregard for media freedom in Egypt, where the limits are overstepped every day. President Sisi’s regime cannot continue to justify its authoritarian excesses in the name of combatting terrorism.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) echoed these sentiments, saying the trial is “emblematic of the threats faced by journalists in Egypt.”

“This trial has been carried out with no evidence and has caused great pain to Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, Peter Greste, and their families,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said. “We call on Egyptian authorities to put an end to the abuse of the law which has made Egypt one of the riskiest countries in the world to be a journalist.”

According to CPJ’s statement, at least 22 journalists were behind bars for their reporting in Egypt on August 12, 2015. Most of the journalists jailed in Egypt are accused of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Julie Bishop, the Australian foreign minister, also said that she is “dismayed” by the verdict.

“This is a distressing outcome for Mr Greste, his family and supporters,” she said, adding that she will continue to pursue all diplomatic avenues with her Egyptian counterpart to clear his name.

Another statement by the Canadian Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Minister Lynne Yelich said the verdict “undermines confidence in the rule of law in Egypt,” and called on the Egyptian government to allow Fahmy’s return to Canada.

“Senior Canadian officials in Canada and in Cairo are pressing Egyptian authorities on Mr. Fahmy’s case,” she said. “This includes advocating for the same treatment of Mr. Fahmy as other foreign nationals have received.”

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