29 Aug 2015

Al Jazeera journalists sentenced to three years in prison

Three Al Jazeera journalists are sentenced to three years in prison by an Egyptian court for broadcasting false news.

Canadian-Egyptian Mohammed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were in court in Cairo for the sentencing following a retrial. Australian Peter Greste, who was deported to Australia earlier this year, was on trial in absentia.

The TV journalists were detained in December 2013 while working for the Qatar-based network and the case has trigged international outcry and has been criticised by press freedom activists.

The men were charged with aiding the banned Muslim Brotherhood group and operating without a press licence. They were also accused of broadcasting material that was harmful to Egypt, all of which they deny.

‘False News’

The journalists were originally sentenced in June 2014 with Mr Greste and Mr Fahmy receiving seven years and Mr Mohamd getting 10 years. Their convictions were overturned in January this year and they released on bail in February to await retrial.

Today, Judge Hassan Farid said that in his court’s view the men were not journalists and ruled that they had operated without a press licence or registered with the country’s journalist syndicate.

He said the journalists had brought equipment into the country without the approval of security officials.

The judge claimed the men also spread “false news” and used a hotel as a broadcasting point without permission.

Following today’s verdict,Mr Greste tweeted that he was “shocked” and “angry”.

Speaking to Channel 4 News Mr Greste said there’s been a tremendous amount of social pressure and public pressure on the Egyptian government over this trial. However, he said that David Cameron’s invitation to the Egyptian President Sisi to visit the UK now seems “completely inappropriate” in light of the Al Jazeera convictions.

“The whole world has been watching Egypt very very closely to see Egypt’s commitment to freedom of the press. What we are seeing today in these convictions is a gross injustice and a violation of those fundamental principles.

“To see President Sisi alongside the Prime Minister of Britain is going to send a very negative message,” he said.

A Downing Street spokesman responded to this saying the visit would go ahead by added that “the frank and honest relationship” between the two countries allows Britain to raise any concerns with its Egyptian partners.

Al-Jazeera English acting director-general Mostefa Souag said the sentence “defies logic and common sense”.

“Our colleagues Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy will now have to return to prison, and Peter Greste is sentenced in absentia,” he added.

“The whole case has been heavily politicized and has not been conducted in a free and fair manner. There is no evidence proving that our colleagues in any way fabricated news or aided and abetted terrorist organisations and at no point during the long drawn out retrial did any of the unfounded allegations stand up to scrutiny.”

Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who was in the court room representing Mr Fahmy, called on Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi to issue a pardon to the journalists.

She said: “Every single third party that has looked at this case from the beginning from the UN to the EU, the US, the UK.

“Everyone has said there is no evidence to sustain any of the charges and Egypt’s own Supreme Court, when they looked at this cae they said there wasn’t sufficient evidence so the verdict today sends a very dangerous message in Egypt.

“It sends a message that journalists can be locked up for simply doing their job, for telling the truth and reporting the news. It sends a dangerous message that there are judges in Egypt who will allow their courts to become instruments of political repression and propaganda.”