Foreign Ministry summons UK ambassador over comments on Al Jazeera trial

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry summoned British Ambassador to Egypt John Casson on Sunday morning, after the diplomat condemned the Al Jazeera trial verdict.

Casson attended the trial of Al Jazeera journalists Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste, who were sentenced to three years in prison for disseminating false information on Sunday.

Following the trial, the ambassador stated that he was “shocked and concerned by the sentences issued by the court today. This case has attracted international attention because of the presence of foreign citizens among the accused, including two British citizens. But this cases is of even more profound interest to Egyptians because it has become a symbol of the basis of stability in the new Egypt.”

“I am concerned that today’s ruling will undermine confidence in the basis of Egypt’s stability, both in Egypt and abroad,” he added.

The Foreign Ministry stated that Casson’s comments constituted “unacceptable interference in the rulings of the judiciary,” reported the state-owned Al-Ahram.

The ministry also explained the remarks were, “incompatible with the diplomatic norms and practices of an accredited ambassador in a foreign country, whose main interests should be in fostering closer relations with the state.”

In direct response to Casson’s remarks, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid stated that, “What is important is the confidence of the Egyptian people in the impartiality and independence of the trial…Egypt does not wait for lessons from anyone,” according to state-owned Al-Ahram.

The British Embassy released a statement later on Sunday confirming that Casson met with Hisham Seif Eddin, chief of staff to Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, at the request of the Foreign Ministry on Sunday. 

The embassy stated that Casson explained the UK’s position in the meeting, stressing on the issue of the British nationals implicated in the trial. According to the embassy, Casson “undertook to transmit the concerns set out by the Egyptian side to Ministers in London.”

Despite the Foreign Ministry’s remarks on diplomatic norms, however, the ministry did not summon or castigate other foreign diplomats who attended the trial and expressed their dismay over the verdict.

In response to the verdict, Dutch ambassador to Egypt Gerard Steeghs tweeted, “No good news at the #ajtretrial. Three years sentences for most defendants. Statement of Netherlands will follow.”

The Canadian Embassy in Egypt reposted the Canadian Prime Minster’s tweet on the trial, in which he stated, “Canada continues to call on Egypt for the immediate and full release of Mr. Fahmy, and full co-operation to facilitate his return home.”

The US Embassy in Egypt has not yet commented on the verdict, although State Department spokesperson John Kirby released a statement saying, “The United States is deeply disappointed and concerned by the verdict handed down by an Egyptian court to the three Al Jazeera journalists – Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, and Peter Greste. The freedom of the press to investigate, report and comment – even when its perspective is unpopular or disputed – is fundamental to any free society and essential to democratic development.”

The British Foreign Office also released an additional statement from the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa Tobias Ellwood, who stated, “These sentences will undermine confidence in Egypt’s progress towards strong long term stability based on implementing the rights granted by the Egyptian constitution.”

This is not the first time Egyptian governmental figures have defended the country over its human rights record. In April, 2014, following a report from the UK slamming the human rights situation in Egypt, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb asserted that Egypt “will not allow meddling in our domestic policy.”

In April, the Foreign Ministry called on Western governments to stop interfering in judicial affairs and to focus on their own issues, after the US State Department issued a statement condemning the life sentence handed down to US citizen Mohamed Soltan.

The Foreign Ministry has also recently started a blog to “correct misconceptions” about Egypt. Abu Zeid stated at the time that the blog emerged amid “smear media campaigns adopted by some foreign media outlets regarding political, economic and security issues in Egypt.” 

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