Al Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt

Published June 24, 2014
CAIRO: Al Jazeera news channel’s Australian journalist Peter Greste (left) and his colleagues, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy (right) and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, listen to the verdict inside the defendants’ cage during their trial for allegedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood on Monday.—AFP
CAIRO: Al Jazeera news channel’s Australian journalist Peter Greste (left) and his colleagues, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy (right) and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, listen to the verdict inside the defendants’ cage during their trial for allegedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood on Monday.—AFP

CAIRO: Three Al Jazeera journalists were sentenced to seven years in jail by an Egyptian judge on Monday for aiding a “terrorist organisation”, drawing criticism from Western governments who said the verdict undermined freedom of expression.

The three, who all denied the charge of working with the now banned Muslim Brotherhood, included Australian Peter Greste and Canadian-Egyptian national Mohamed Fahmy, Cairo bureau chief of Al Jazeera English.

The third defendant, Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, was given an extra three years for possessing a single bullet at the hearing attended by Western diplomats, some of whose governments summoned Egypt’s ambassadors over the case.

The men have been held at Egypt’s notorious Tora Prison for six months, with the case becoming a rallying point for rights groups and news organisations around the world.


The three were accused of aiding the ‘banned’ Muslim Brotherhood


They were detained in late December and charged with helping “a terrorist group” — a reference to Muslim Brotherhood — by broadcasting lies that harmed national security and supplying money, equipment and information to a group of Egyptians.

The Brotherhood was banned and declared a terrorist group after the army deposed elected Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in July following mass protests against his rule. The Brotherhood says it is a peaceful organisation.

Al Jazeera, whose Qatari owners back the Brotherhood and have been at odds with Egypt’s leadership since he was ousted, said the ruling defied “logic, sense and any semblance of justice”.

“There is only one sensible outcome now. For the verdict to be overturned, and justice to be recognised by Egypt,” Al Jazeera English managing director Al Anstey said in a statement.

The ruling came a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry met newly elected Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo and raised the issue of the journalists.

On Monday, Mr Kerry said he called Egypt’s foreign minister to register his “serious displeasure” over the “chilling and draconian verdict”.

The courtroom quickly descended into chaos as the verdict was read out. Shaken and near tears, Greste’s brother Michael said: “This is terribly devastating. I am stunned, dumbstruck. I’ve no other words.”

The three men had looked upbeat as they entered the courtroom in handcuffs, waving at relatives who had earlier told journalists they expected them to be freed for lack of evidence.

One Dutch woman and two Britons were sentenced to 10 years in absentia on the same charges of aiding a “terrorist group”.

Judicial sources said the verdicts could be appealed before a higher court and a pardon was still possible.

Egypt’s public prosecutor last week ordered the release of another Al Jazeera journalist, Abdullah al-Shamy, on health grounds after he spent more than 130 days on hunger strike.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2014

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