Al Jazeera journalists sentenced to a least 3 years in prison

Al Jazeera journalists sentenced to a least 3 years in prison

-NRN/Reuters

An Egyptian court sentenced Australian journalist Peter Greste and his two Al Jazeera colleagues to three years in prison on Saturday for operating without a press license and broadcasting material harmful to Egypt.

The verdict in a retrial was issued against Mohamed Fahmy, a naturalised Canadian who has given up his Egyptian citizenship, Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian, and Greste, who was deported in February.

Rights advocates say their arrest was part of a crackdown on free speech waged since the army overthrew President Mohamed Mursi, a senior Muslim Brotherhood figure, in July 2013 following mass unrest over his rule.

Judge Hassan Farid said the defendants, dubbed the “Marriott Cell” by the local press because they worked out of a hotel belonging to that chain, “are not journalists and not members of the press syndicate” and broadcast with unlicensed equipment.

Baher received an additional six months in prison because he was in possession of a bullet at the time of his arrest.

“To be given three-year sentences is outrageous. It is just devastating for me.”

The three men were originally sentenced to between seven to 10 years in prison on charges including spreading lies to help a terrorist organisation, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood which the military toppled from power two years ago.

The three defendants denied all charges, calling them absurd. Three other Egyptians, all students, also received three-year sentences for the same charges.

Speaking on Al Jazeera in reaction to Saturday’s verdict, Greste said he was shocked at the scale of the sentence.

“Words really don’t do justice,” he said.

“To be given three-year sentences is outrageous. It is just devastating for me.”

Greste won’t be able to report in an country as a foreign correspondent that has an extradition treaty with Egypt.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement she “was dismayed” by the court sentence.

“I have spoken to Mr Greste today and reaffirmed that I will continue to pursue all diplomatic avenues with my Egyptian counterpart to clear his name.”

Fahmy and Mohamed, who had been released on bail in February after over a year in jail, were taken back into custody after the verdict, according to Fahmy’s wife Marwa Omara.

Appeal planned

“We will appeal this verdict and hope it will be reversed. We are now going to be holding a series of meetings with government officials where we will be asking for Mr. Fahmy’s immediate deportation to Canada,” said Fahmy’s lawyer Amal Clooney.

“His colleague Peter Greste was sent back to Australia; there is no reason why the same thing shouldn’t happen in Mr. Fahmy’s case.”

Western governments have voiced concern for freedom of expression in Egypt since Mursi was ousted but have not taken concrete steps to promote democracy in Egypt, an important strategic ally in the Middle East.

“Mohamed has been sentenced and all I can ask for now is for all his colleagues to stand by him and to keep calling for his release, but this is extremely unfair,” said Fahmy’s wife.

“I ask the Canadian government to extract him from here as he is a Canadian citizen and to deport him back to Canada. All what I am asking (for) is justice and fairness, for what happened with Peter to be applied to Mohamed.”

Canada called for Fahmy’s “full and immediate release,” after the verdict.

“Senior Canadian officials in Canada and in Cairo are pressing Egyptian authorities on Mr. Fahmy’s case. This includes advocating for the same treatment of Mr. Fahmy as other foreign nationals have received,” Canadian Minister of State Lynne Yelich said in a statement.

Al Jazeera condemned the court’s decision in a statement read by the channel’s general director Mostefa Souag.

“This judgment is a new attack on the freedom of the press, and it’s a black day in the history of the Egyptian judiciary.”

“There is no evidence our colleagues in any way fabricated news. This was comprehensively debunked by the court’s own technical committee,” Al Jazeera English Acting Managing Director Giles Trendle told a news conference in Doha.

Human rights groups have accused Egyptian authorities of rolling back freedoms won in the 2011 popular uprising that toppled veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Amnesty International called the verdict “farcical.”

“The fact that two of these journalists are now facing time in jail following two grossly unfair trials makes a mockery of justice in Egypt,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

About author

Amy Whittaker
Amy Whittaker 1402 posts

<p>Amy joined the NRN team in August 2011, before graduating from a B of Arts (Communication-Journalism)/B of Sports Studies from Charles Sturt University in December 2011.</p>

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