One of the first thoughts I had when I woke up this morning was that today was going to be the day that we would finally hear the fate of three Al Jazeera journalists, Egyptian-Canadian acting Cairo bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, Australian reporter Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, who, along with 17 others, have been jailed since last December on charges of “spreading false news,” portraying the conflict between pro- and anti-Morsi Egyptians as a “civil war,” as well as supporting or actually being card-carrying members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood. Today they would find out their sentences.
Like so many observers, I was almost certain the court would release the journalists, especially given that U.S. Secretary Kerry is in Cairo looking at U.S.-Egypt cooperation.
But like everyone else, I was stunned when I read they were sentenced to seven years in prison — and Mohamed given an additional three years on separate charges, along with an LE5000 fine–about $700–for possessing ammunition.
The judge also handed down 10-year prison terms to British journalists Sue Turton and Dominic Kane and the Dutch journalist Rena Netjes, who were tried in absentia.
The Al Jazeera English website identified its other journalists tried in absentia as: Alaa Bayoumi, Anas Abdel-Wahab Khalawi Hasan, Khaleel Aly Khaleel Bahnasy and Mohamed Fawzi.
In Baghdad today Secretary Kerry called it “a chilling and draconian sentence.”
Meanwhile, the British Prime Minister is completely appalled by the verdicts and and “appalled” Foreign Secretary William Hague summoned the Egyptian Ambassador to London for a meeting to discuss the matter.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says her Government is “deeply appalled” and will talk to the government of Egypt’s newly-elected President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi as to whether anything can be done to intervene.
Al Jazeera English managing director Al Anstey says the verdicts defy “logic, sense, and any semblance of justice”.
“There is only one sensible outcome now,” Anstey said in an online press release: “For the verdict to be overturned, and justice to be recognized by Egypt…The authorities in Egypt need to take responsibility for their actions, and be held to account by the global community.