The White House called the verdicts against three Al Jazeera journalists convicted in Egypt of assisting the Muslim Brotherhood a ruling that “flouts the most basic standards of media freedom and represents a blow to democratic progress in Egypt.”
Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed were sentenced to seven years behind bars for “spreading false news,” falsely portraying Egypt as being in a state of “civil war,” and aiding the Brotherhood. Mohamed received an extra three years on his sentence for possessing ammunition.
Al Jazeera English managing director Al Anstey said the journalists were imprisoned “for doing a brilliant job of being great journalists.”
“There were many moments during the hearings where in any other court of law, the trial would be thrown out,” Anstey said. “There were numerous irregularities in addition to the lack of evidence to stand up the ill-conceived allegations.”
“Perhaps most disturbing is that this verdict comes as part of a succession of prosecutions and verdicts that are fundamentally incompatible with the basic precepts of human rights and democratic governance. These include the prosecution of peaceful protesters and critics of the government, and a series of summary death sentences in trials that fail to achieve even a semblance of due process,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement.
An Egyptian court recently affirmed a death sentence against the Brotherhood’s leader, Mohamed Badie.
“It should be emphasized that the victims in these cases are not just the defendants and journalism more broadly, but the Egyptian people, who have courageously asserted their demands for the fundamental freedoms to which all are entitled. We call on the Egyptian government to pardon these individuals or commute their sentences so they can be released immediately, and grant clemency for all politically motivated sentences – starting with the other defendants in this trial,” Earnest added.
Secretary of State John Kerry called the sentences for the Al Jazeera crew “chilling” and “draconian.”
“Injustices like these simply cannot stand if Egypt is to move forward in the way that President al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Shoukry told me just yesterday that they aspire to see their country advance,” Kerry said in a statement.
“As I shared with President al-Sisi during my visit to Cairo, the long term success of Egypt and its people depends on the protection of universal human rights, and a real commitment to embracing the aspirations of the Egyptians for a responsive government. Egyptian society is stronger and sustainable when all of its citizens have a say and a stake in its success. Today’s verdicts fly in the face of the essential role of civil society, a free press, and the real rule of law. I spoke with Foreign Minister Shoukry again today to make very clear our deep concerns about these convictions and sentences,” he continued.
“Yesterday, President al-Sisi and I frankly discussed these issues and his objectives at the start of his term as President. I call on him to make clear, publicly, his government’s intention to observe Egypt’s commitment to the essential role of civil society, a free press, and the rule of law. The Egyptian government should review all of the political sentences and verdicts pronounced during the last few years and consider all available remedies, including pardons.”