Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1203, (26 June - 2 July 2014)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1203, (26 June - 2 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Controversial verdict

The jailing of three Al-Jazeera journalists meets with international condemnation, and domestic applause. Reem Leila reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

Cairo Criminal Court on Monday sentenced three Al-Jazeera journalists to lengthy prison sentences on charges of spreading fabricated news, falsely portraying Egypt as being in a state of civil war, aiding a terrorist group, tarnishing Egypt’s image abroad, threatening national security and creating a terrorist media network. Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmi were sentenced to seven years, and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed – who was also found guilty of carrying ammunition — to ten.

Defendants in the case tried in absentia received sentences of between three and ten years. They include Britons Sue Turton and Dominic Kane, who once worked for Al-Jazeera in Cairo but were not in the country at the time of arrest. Dutch journalist Rena Netjes was never employed by Al-Jazeera. 

A day after the verdict was delivered President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi appeared to diminish any hopes of a presidential pardon being issued. Egypt’s judiciary is independent, he said, and “during my first meeting with the justice minister I told him I will not interfere in judicial affairs”.

“If we want an institutional state we must respect judicial rulings and refrain from commenting on them, ”Al-Sisi said at a military graduation ceremony on Tuesday.

The case, which began last February and extended to 12 hearings, triggered fears about the future of media freedom. Global rights watchdogs, as well as international news organisations, repeatedly called for the release of the detainees.

Foreign officials and human rights organisations have condemned the verdict. Britain and the Netherlands both summoned their respective Egyptian ambassadors to over the verdict. Turton, Kane and Netjes all received ten-year sentences in absentia.

Netjes did not have a fair trial, said Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans. “I will discuss the matter today in Luxembourg with my European counterparts. The Netherlands is very disappointed in the verdict. The Netherlands is taking this matter very seriously.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said via Twitter that Egypt should review the verdicts and display commitment to press freedom. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt condemned the verdicts on Twitter, asking why Egypt was jailing “journalists for reporting”.

Claire Mallinison, Amnesty International’s national director for Australia, described the court ruling as “shocking”. Amnesty has already launched an online campaign urging people to write to Al-Sisi to ask for the release of the 20 defendants.

Officials at the Doha-based Al-Jazeera satellite channel point out only nine of the 20 defendants were on its staff, including six tried in absentia. The evidence produced by the prosecution, it said, verged on the farcical. 

Member of Supreme Press Council (SPC) Salah Eissa warned against commenting on the verdict before the written judgment is issued. “Nobody can judge the verdict until we know why the court issued its ruling,” said Eissa.

Eissa claimed the defendants were not performing their job as they claimed but fabricating news and photos. “Most of them, apart from the foreigners, belong to the Muslim Brotherhood. Foreigners were helping them in this fabrication for one reason or another. They had a hidden agenda and unknown intentions. Egypt is under foreign attack for the sake of the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Eissa.

He objected to the foreign reaction to the verdict. “They don’t know any details about the verdict yet. It is from a court of first instance and not a final ruling. They must take this into consideration before attacking our judicial system. All this fuss must stop.”

TV anchor Ibrahim Eissa blamed Al-Jazeera for causing “serious tensions in relations between Egypt and Qatar”.

“The government’s decision to ban the channel from working in Egypt was wise,” he said. He said the satellite channel was that of “voice of the enemy”.

“No one has the right to doubt the independence of Egypt’s judicial system or the justice of its verdicts,” he added.

Monday’s sentences came almost a week after Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat released Abdullah Al-Shami, an Al-Jazeera Arabic channel journalist who had been on hunger strike for nearly five months, on medical grounds.


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