TIME Egypt

Egypt’s President el-Sisi Says He Wished Al-Jazeera Journalists Weren’t Tried

Peter Greste
In this file photo, Al-Jazeera's award-winning Australian correspondent Peter Greste, appears in a defendants' cage in a courthouse near Tora prison in Cairo, Egypt. An Egyptian court on Monday, June 23, 2014, convicted three Al-Jazeera journalists and sentenced them to seven years in prison on terrorism-related charges after a trial dismissed by rights groups as a politically motivated sham. Hamada Elrasam—AP

It was the first public recognition by any Egyptian official that the case had been damaging to the country's relations with the international community.

(CAIRO) — Egypt’s president acknowledged for the first time that the heavy sentences handed down to three Al-Jazeera journalists had a “very negative” impact on his country’s reputation, saying he wished they were never put on trial.

The comments by Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi to editors of Egyptian media outlets were published late Sunday. They were the first public recognition by Egyptian officials that the case had been damaging to the country’s relations with the international community.

The sentencing of the three journalists on June 23, after a five-month trial described as a “sham” by rights groups, caused an international outcry.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the sentences “chilling and draconian,” and urged Egyptian authorities to address international concerns. A day after the sentences and following an outpouring of international condemnation, el-Sissi appeared to be rebuffing the pressure, saying in televised comments that he will not interfere in court rulings.

In his remarks published Sunday, he said the case represented one of the foreign policy challenges facing Egypt, but stopped short of saying whether he will issue a clemency. He seemed to be refuting claims that the case is politically motivated, and a reflection of the tension between Egypt and Qatar, the Gulf state that owns the television network. Qatar was a supporter of the ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, and his Muslim Brotherhood group. After Morsi’s ouster last year, many of the group’s leaders moved to Qatar to avoid an intense government crackdown that landed thousands in jail.

“The verdict issued against a number of journalists had very negative consequences; and we had nothing to do with it,” el-Sissi said, suggesting it was an entirely legal matter. “I wished they were deported immediately after their arrest instead of being put on trial.” His comments were published in the online version of Al-Masry Al-Youm daily.

The three Al-Jazeera journalists were award-winning Australian journalist Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian acting bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed. They were arrested on Dec. 29 and accused of aiding the Brotherhood by providing it with a media platform and equipment. The Egyptians were also accused of belonging to the Brotherhood, the group the government declared a terrorist organization. Greste and Fahmy each received seven-year sentences, while Mohammed got 10 years. Three other foreign journalists were sentenced to 10 years in absentia.

The sentences can be appealed, a process that can take months. Egypt’s constitution allows the president to issue a clemency, but experts argue the appeals process must be exhausted first.

TIME Al Jazeera

Egypt Sentences 3 Al-Jazeera Reporters to 7 years

An Egyptian court on Monday convicted three journalists from Al-Jazeera English and sentenced them to seven years in prison each on terrorism-related charges

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(CAIRO) — An Egyptian court on Monday convicted three journalists from Al-Jazeera English and sentenced them to seven years in prison each on terrorism-related charges in a case that has brought an outcry from rights groups.

The sentences were handed down against Australian correspondent Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian acting Cairo bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy, and Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed, who also received an extra three years in prison on separate charges.

“I swear they will pay for this,” Fahmy shouted angrily from the defendants’ cage after the sentences were announced. Greste raised his fists in the air.

“They just ruined a family,” said Fahmy’s brother Adel, who was attending the session. He said they would appeal the verdict but added that he had little faith in the system. “Everything is corrupt,” he said.

The judge also handed 10-year sentences to two British journalists and a Dutch journalist who were not in Egypt and being tried in absentia. Two defendants among 14 others on trial in the case were acquitted, including the son of Mohammed el-Beltagy, a senior figure in the Muslim Brotherhood.

Greste, Fahmy and Mohammed were arrested in December in a raid on the Cairo hotel room they were using as an office, as part of a sweeping crackdown on Islamist supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.

They were accused of supporting Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which the authorities have declared a terrorist organization. They also face charges of fabricating footage to undermine Egypt’s national security and make it appear the country was facing civil war. The prosecution has offered little evidence to back up the charges against them.

The three and their supporters have said they were simply doing their jobs as journalists, covering the wave of protests led by the Brotherhood against the military-backed government installed after Morsi’s ousted on July 3 by then-army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is now the president. The police crackdown on the protests has killed hundreds and put thousands more in prison.

British ambassador James Watt, also attending, said he was “very disappointed” by the verdict. “Freedom of expression is fundamental to any democracy,” he said.

The other defendants were mainly students, arrested separately, accused of providing the Al-Jazeera journalists with footage along with a variety of other charges, including belonging to the Brotherhood.

TIME Egypt

Al-Jazeera Reporter in Egypt Freed After Hunger Strike

Abdullah Elshamy
Al-Jazeera Arabic service journalist Abdullah Elshamy, who had been on hunger strike for more than four months to protest his prolonged detention without charges, speaks to the media after his release from detention in Cairo on Tuesday, June 17, 2014. Nariman El-Mofty—AP

Citing concerns about his deteriorating health, Egyptian authorities released a journalist for the news service al-Jazeera on Tuesday after jailing him without charges for more than 10 months.

Abdullah Elshamy, 26, was thin, weak and still dressed in a prison uniform as he walked out of a police station near Cairo following a 147-day hunger strike, CBS News reports.

“I won,” he said to reporters.

Elshamy was among a group of al-Jazeera journalists imprisoned in Egypt after the military retook control of the country last year following the overthrow of elected President Mohamed Morsi. Three of Elshamy’s fellow al-Jazeera reporters remain jailed for lending support to the Muslim Brotherhood and are facing terrorism-related charges, which they deny.

The journalists’ arrests are part of a wider crackdown on press freedom in Egypt that has not improved since the June 3 inauguration of Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

[CBS News]

 

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