Al Jazeera English has slammed a decision by an Egyptian court in Cairo to sentence three of its journalists to jail, saying they had been imprisoned for “doing a brilliant job of being great journalists”.
Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy were sentenced to seven years in prison, and Baher Mohamed sentenced to 10. Mohamed received an extra three years as he was found in possession of a spent bullet casing he had found on the ground during a protest. The men were detained in December on charges of aiding the ousted Muslim Brotherhood after president Mohamed Morsi was removed from the presidency by the army in July. The prosecution accused them of producing false news reports.
“Today three colleagues and friends were sentenced, and will continue behind bars for doing a brilliant job of being great journalists. ‘Guilty’ of covering stories with great skill and integrity. ‘Guilty’ of defending people’s right to know what is going on in their world,” managing director Al Anstey said in a statement. ““We will continue with resolve and determination until Baher, Peter, and Mohamed are free and safely reunited with their families.”
Other Al Jazeera journalists were tried in absentia. Alaa Bayoumi, Anas Abdel-Wahab Khalawi Hasan, Khaleel Aly Khaleel Bahnasy, Mohamed Fawzi, Dominic Kane, and Sue Turton also received 10 year sentences.
“Peter, Mohamed, and Baher and six of our other colleagues were sentenced despite the fact that not a shred of evidence was found to support the extraordinary and false charges against them. At no point during the long, drawn-out ‘trial’ did the absurd allegations stand up to scrutiny,” Anstey said. “There were many moments during the hearings where in any other court of law, the trial would be thrown out. There were numerous irregularities in addition to the lack of evidence to stand up the ill-conceived allegations.
“There is no justification whatsoever in the detention of our three colleagues for even one minute. To have detained them for 177 days is an outrage. To have sentenced them defies logic, sense, and any semblance of justice,” he said.
The sentences have shocked the media and broader community. British foreign secretary, William Hague, said in a statement he would summon Egypt’s ambassador to protest the ruling. “I am appalled by the guilty verdicts handed down today against Egyptian and international journalists in Egypt,” Hague said. “I am particularly concerned by unacceptable procedural shortcomings during the trial process, including that key prosecution evidence was not made available to the defence team.”
CNN’s chief international correspondent, Christine Amanpour, took to Twitter to express her dismay, and also questioned the US giving Egypt $500 million funding for military aid. “What a travesty,” she wrote.
Anstey welcomed the global support for the three, saying it had been “loud, unified, and determined, and has come from every corner of the world”.
“The call for their freedom has come from journalists, people right around the globe, as well as leaders worldwide. This great solidarity is a stand for basic freedoms – the freedom of speech, for the right for people to be informed, and for the right for journalists around the world to be able to do their job. And, of course, a demand to free our colleagues,” he said.
“There is only one sensible outcome now. For the verdict to be overturned, and justice to be recognised by Egypt. We must keep our voice loud to call for an end to their detention. Alongside us is a worldwide solidarity, a global call for their release, and a demand for basic freedoms to be respected. The authorities in Egypt need to take responsibility for their actions, and be held to account by the global community,” he said.
The case has led to global protests on Twitter, using the hashtag #FreeAJstaff and #AJtrial.
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