Elham Asaad Buaras
International outrage at Egypt’s onslaught on dissent intensified on June 23 after three Al-Jazeera English journalists were sentenced to up to a decade in jail for endangering Egypt’s national security
Al-Jazeera’s Cairo bureau chief, Mohamed Fahmy, 40,who is Canadian-Egyptian, Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, 30, and Australian correspondent Peter Greste, 48, were found guilty of spreading false news.
Greste and Fahmy were sentenced to seven years in prison and Mohammed to 10 years.
The trio denied the charges and are expected to appeal.
Human rights groups described their trial as a sham, with no evidence presented to back the charges.
Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, said she would work with the Egyptian Government to try to secure Greste’s release “as soon as possible”.
“We support Egypt’s transition to democracy, but that also includes freedom of speech and press.”
The verdict also prompted hundreds of journalists including BBC staff to gather outside New Broadcasting House in London in a one-minute silent protest against the sentencing.
The protest took place at 8:41 am exactly 24 hours after the sentencing in Cairo.
The trio were seized in a raid at a Cairo hotel on December 29 and have since been held at Cairo’s Tora prison. The court tried a total of 20 people, including nine Al-Jazeera employees. Eleven defendants tried in absentia, including three foreign journalists, received 10-year sentences. Two of the journalists convicted in absentia are British.
The sentences come hot on the heels of a court decision to uphold death sentences against 183 supporters of ousted Egyptian President, Mohamed Morsi, including a blind man.
President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi – who initiated the coup against Morsi – said he would not “interfere” with the judiciary which he described as independent.
BBC Director of News James Harding said the BBC, alongside other news organisations, would be submitting a letter to the Egyptian president asking him to address “this injustice”.
Qatar -based Al-Jazeera, was banned from operating in Egypt after being accused of broadcasting pro- Muslim Brotherhood reports. Al-Jazeera has consistently denied the allegations.
Amnesty International said the trial was a “vindictive farce” and part of the “ongoing row” between Egypt and Qatar, which backs the Muslim Brotherhood.
“This is a devastating verdict for the men and their families, and a dark day for media freedom in Egypt, when journalists are being locked up and branded criminals or ’terrorists’ simply for doing their job,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.