Egypt: Global outcry after journalists sentenced

Saturday, June 28, 2014

An Egyptian court sentenced three Al Jazeera journalists to seven years in prison on terrorism-related charges on June 23.

Baher Mohammed, the team’s producer, received an extra three years for possession of ammunition, a charge concerning a souvenir spent shell found in his possession, Morning Star said that day.

The verdicts against Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohammed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohammed came after a five-month trial that Amnesty International described as a “sham”, calling the rulings “a dark day for media freedom in Egypt”.

Morning Star reported that Fahmy’s brother said the journalists would appeal but added that he had little faith in the system. Greste’s brother Andrew said he was “gutted” and also vowed to appeal.

There were 14 other co-defendants in the case. Eight people tried in absentia received 10-year prison sentences and two were acquitted, including the son of Mohammed Beltagy, a senior figure in the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The only reason these three are in jail is because the authorities don’t like what they had to say,” said Amnesty International observer Philip Luther.

The prosecution “failed to produce a single shred of solid evidence linking the journalists to a terrorism organisation or proving they had falsified news footage,” he added.

“Consigning these men to years in prison after such a farcical spectacle is a travesty of justice.”

“The Egyptian judiciary has proved time and time again that it is either unwilling or incapable of conducting an impartial and fair trial when it comes to those perceived to support the former president.”

The next day, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi insisted he would not interfere in court rulings condemning three Al-Jazeera journalists to seven years in prison.

Morning Star said that day that the president has the right to issue pardons or commute sentences, meaning the announcement closes off one avenue of hope for the journalists.

The decision sparked protests around the world. In London, National Union of Journalists representatives, staff and supporters gathered on June 24 to show support jailed journalists. The union said other solidarity events and minutes' silences were also organised by British broadcasters that day.

In Australia, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), the union covering Australia’s journalists, condemned the court verdict in a June 23 statement.

It called on Egyptian authorities “to urgently intervene to free the three journalists who have been detained for simply doing their jobs”.

The statement said: “The verdict of the court, despite the lack of evidence and bizarre court proceedings over more than a dozen hearings, is an appalling attack on press freedom and carries an implicit threat to all media working in Egypt.

“The court proceedings have been farcical from the outset and there has not been a shred of evidence ... that in any way implicates the journalists in the charges of defaming Egypt and having ties to the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood.

“Contrary to the charges the three journalists have behaved ethically and responsibly while reporting on a complex, rapidly changing political environment in Egypt …

“MEAA again calls on Egypt’s authorities to immediately release the three Al Jazeera English journalists and all journalists detained for their journalism.”

Sign the Amnesty International petition calling for the Al Jazeera staff to be freed.

From GLW issue 1014