The jailing of three Al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt for “spreading false news” has been described as “sickening” and politically motivated. Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohammed and Peter Greste were sentenced at a retrial that many expected would vindicate them. Fahmy, a Canadian, and Mohammed, an Egyptian, were in court, but Greste, an Australian, had already been deported to Australia in February.
Immediately after the ruling, Fahmy’s wife, Marwa, began crying and others sobbed loudly. Judge Hassan Farid said he jailed the three in part because they were not registered with the country’s journalist syndicate. He explained that the journalists brought equipment without the approval of security officials into Egypt. The three also spread “false news” and used a hotel as a broadcasting point without permission, the judge added.
After the verdict, Greste tweeted: “Shocked. Outraged. Angry. Upset. None of them convey how I feel right now.” He later told Sky News, from Sydney, that he believed an Egyptian appeals court would overturn the verdict. “What really is devastating is what it means for my colleagues,” he said.”I know the prisons that they are going to have to go back to. I know the conditions they are going to have to endure.
“I know their families – Baher has three young children, including a one-year-old baby. “It sickens me to the stomach to know that these are innocent men that did absolutely nothing to justify this, none of us did.” He continued: “If there is no evidence, the only conclusion you can come to is that this is a politically-motivated verdict. “There is no other way of interpreting that.”
UK Minister for Middle East and North Africa Tobias Ellwood said he was “deeply concerned” by the sentences. He said: “These sentences will undermine confidence in Egypt’s progress towards strong long term stability based on implementing the rights granted by the Egyptian constitution. “We have repeatedly raised this case and the restrictions on freedom of expression in Egypt with ministers and senior officials.”
The case began in December 2013, when Egyptian security forces raided the upscale hotel suite used by Al-Jazeera to report from Egypt. Authorities arrested Fahmy, Greste and Mohammed, later charging them with allegedly being part of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood, an Islamist movement, had been declared a terrorist organisation by authorities and the three were accused of airing falsified footage.
Al-Jazeera and the journalists denied the allegations, saying they were simply reporting the news. In a verdict that brought international condemnation, the three men were first convicted on 23 June, 2014, with Greste and Fahmy sentenced to seven years in prison and Mohammed to 10 . The country’s highest appeals court, later ordered their retrial, saying the initial proceedings were marred by violations of the defendants’ rights.
Al-Jazeera English acting director-general Mostefa Souag said the latest sentence “defies logic and common sense”.”The whole case has been heavily politicised and has not been conducted in a free and fair manner,” Mr Souag said. “There is no evidence proving that our colleagues in any way fabricated news or aided and abetted terrorist organisations and at no point during the long drawn out retrial did any of the unfounded allegations stand up to scrutiny.”
Amnesty International condemned the sentences, calling them the “death knell for freedom of expression in Egypt.” Amal Clooney, wife of actor George Clooney, represented Fahmy in court. Outside court, she called for Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al Sisi to quash the sentences and convictions, Sky News reports.