Friday, July 25, 2014

Egypt: al-Jazeera Journalists Sentenced to Ten Years in Prison for Aiding a Terrorist Group

According to Reuters, three al-Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt last month for up to ten years on charges of aiding a terrorist organization will appeal their convictions, the family of imprisoned Australian journalist Peter Greste said on Friday (July 25).

Greste, an award-winning foreign correspondent, was detained in December 2013, together with al-Jazeera English Cairo bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, a dual Canadian-Egyptian citizen; and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed.

The three were convicted of aiding a terrorist group--the Muslim Brotherhood of ousted president Mohamed Morsi--in a trial that was widely criticized outside of Egypt for its lack of evidence and a poor excuse for a "witch-hunt."

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi quickly dispelled hopes that he might issue a pardon following the trial, leaving the journalists with no choice but to try to win their freedom through the country's inept criminal justice system. 

"Today we wish to announce we intend to appeal the verdict through the formal channels offered by the Egyptian legal system," Greste's younger brother, Mike Greste, told reporters in Brisbane.

COMMENT: Newly elected President al-Sisi and retired field marshal of the Egyptian Army has declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

Morsi's removal was followed by a security crackdown on Islamist activists and some media outlets, including the Qatar-based al-Jazeera network.
Cairo has rejected the condemnation as "interference in its internal affairs," but al-Sisi said this month that he wished they had been deported, not tried.

That being said, al-Sisi possesses the ultimate authority to simply deport the three, although such a scenario leaves both Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed odd-men out.
The conviction and imprisonment of the reporters has sparked a global campaign by rights groups and media organizations to win their freedom and intensified criticism of the government in many western capitals.

Greste, in a statement released by his family on Friday, said he drew strength from the campaign as he waits out the appeal in Egypt's notorious Tora Prison.

"At least part of our strength comes from the understanding that this isn’t just about those wrongly convicted in our case. This is about press freedom, about freedom of speech, not just in Egypt, but globally," Greste wrote.