Outrage over journalists’ sentences in Egypt
August 30 2015 01:20 AM

Al Jazeera television journalist Mohamed Fahmy, centre, talking to the media, with his wife, Marwa Omara, left, and lawyer Amal Clooney, right,  before hearing the verdict at a court in Cairo yesterday.

AFP
Cairo



An Egyptian court yesterday sentenced three Al Jazeera reporters to three years in prison, in a shock ruling that sparked international condemnation.
Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed were in court for the verdict, while Australian journalist Peter Greste was tried in absentia after being deported early this year.
The court claimed they had broadcast “false” news that harmed Egypt.
Several co-defendants, accused of working with Al Jazeera, received similar sentences.
Canada called for the “immediate return” of Fahmy, while Qatar-based Al Jazeera denounced the verdict as an “attack on press freedom”.
“It’s a dark day for the Egyptian judiciary,” Giles Trendle, the English channel’s acting managing director, told reporters in Doha.
“Rather than defend liberty and the free and fair media, the Egyptian judiciary has compromised its own independence.”
The retrial was ordered early this year after an appeals court overturned an initial sentence of seven years in prison, saying the prosecution had presented scant evidence.
Fahmy’s lawyer, London-based Amal Clooney, told reporters she would press the presidency for a pardon.
“It’s a dangerous precedent in Egypt that journalists can be locked up simply for reporting the news and courts can be used as political tools,” she said.
Al Jazeera’s head of litigation, Farah Muftah, said in Doha the ruling would be appealed once the judge publishes the basis for his sentencing.
Relatives and supporters were dismayed.
“I’m shocked. Terribly shocked. We waited for an acquittal and then found ourselves stuck again in the case. This is illogical,” Fahmy’s brother Adel said.
Greste described the jail terms as “devastating”.
“We did nothing wrong. The prosecution presented no evidence that we did anything wrong and so for us to be convicted as terrorists on no evidence at all is frankly outrageous,” he said.
The journalists were arrested in December 2013, months after the military overthrew president Mohamed Mursi and launched a deadly crackdown on his supporters.
Judge Hassan Farid claimed yesterday that it was clear the reporters “were not journalists” and had broadcast “false news” while operating without a permit.
Mohamed received an additional six-month sentence for possessing a bullet he picked up while covering protest violence.
Fahmy and Mohamed, who were released on bail in February at the start of the retrial, were taken into custody.
Lynne Yelich, Canadian minister of state for foreign and consular affairs, called on Egypt “to use all tools at its disposal to resolve Mr Fahmy’s case and allow his immediate return to Canada”.
The trial has become an embarrassment for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who as army chief ousted Mursi from the presidency in 2013.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she was “dismayed” by the outcome. Pages 3, 11



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