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Sissi Defends Egyptian Court Rulings

  • VOA News

From left, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed listen to the ruling at a court in Cairo, Egypt, June 23, 2014.

From left, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed listen to the ruling at a court in Cairo, Egypt, June 23, 2014.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi says he will not interfere with judicial verdicts, a day after a Cairo court sentenced three Al-Jazeera journalists to seven years in prison on charges of supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood and spreading false news.

Sissi said Tuesday during a televised speech that rulings should be respected and not criticized.

The seven-year sentences announced Monday for Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed drew harsh reactions from leaders and press freedom groups around the world.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Tuesday the Egyptian justice system has the right to make its own decisions, but that Australia was "bewildered" by the ruling.

"Yes, we understand the need of the Egyptian government to maintain internal order and to crack down on extremism including the Muslim Brotherhood. But, but, it is important that there be due process. It is important that decisions be made on a fair and just basis. So we will be talking to the Greste family. We will be talking to the Egyptian government about what we can do to try to ensure that Peter Greste comes home as quickly as possible," said Abbott.

Peter Greste's father, Juris Greste, told reporters Tuesday in Brisbane that the family will continue to fight until the journalists are free, and called the sentencing a "dark time" for journalism.

"Journalism is not a crime or you should all be behind bars. It's as simple as that. This man, our son, Peter, is an award winning journalist. He is not a criminal. He is not a criminal," said Greste.

Egypt defended the Cairo court's ruling and rejected foreign reaction as interference in its internal affairs.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who met with Egyptian leaders a day before the ruling, was among those who harshly criticized the convictions Monday.

"Today's conviction is obviously a chilling and draconian sentence," said Kerry.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for the journalists' release, saying media in Egypt should be "protected, not prosecuted."

Al-Jazeera has always maintained its employees were simply reporting the news.

The network's acting General Director Mostefa Souag called the verdict "shocking" and said Al-Jazeera will continue its international campaign to free its journalists.

Officials at The Hague and in London have also summoned the respective Egyptian ambassadors over the sentences.

Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed were arrested in December at a Cairo hotel where they were working after Egyptian authorities closed the Qatar-based television network's bureau.

Last week, Egypt freed another Al-Jazeera journalist who spent 10 months in prison without being charged. Prosecutors ordered the release of Abdullah Elshamy for health reasons after he had been on hunger strike since January to protest his detention.

Egyptian authorities have carried out a crackdown on the Brotherhood since Sissi, then the army chief, led the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi last July. The crackdown included violently dispersing protests and arresting many of the Brotherhood's leaders.

Since Morsi's ouster, Egypt has drafted a new constitution and voted Sissi into office. It plans to hold parliamentary elections later this year.
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