News / Middle East

Kerry: Egypt's Sentencing of Al Jazeera Journalists 'Chilling, Draconian'

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.
VOA News
An Egyptian court has sentenced three Al Jazeera journalists to seven years each in prison on charges of supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood and spreading false news, in a case that has drawn international condemnation.

The three sentenced Monday in Cairo include Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, who was given an extra three years on another charge.

Speaking to reporters in Baghdad on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry harshly criticized the ruling a day after speaking with Egyptian leaders in Cairo.

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

In Geneva, United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay, in a statement, called for the reporters's release, accusing Egypt of "crushing" the media.  She said she was shocked and alarmed by the verdicts and heavy jail sentences handed down to three Al-Jazeera journalists. 

Pillay's statement said media in Egypt should be "protected not prosecuted."  The commissioner urged authorities to promptly release them and other media workers imprisoned for doing their job.  

Egypt rejected foreign criticism of its judicial system in a statement Monday, saying it considered the remarks interference in its internal affairs.

Denies charges

Al Jazeera has always denied the charges against its employees. 

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.

Al Jazeera English Managing Director Al Anstey said the sentences were given despite "not a shred of evidence" to support the charges and that the only sensible outcome is for the verdict to be overturned.

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

In Canberra, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the decision does not support Egypt's "claim to be on a transition to democracy."

"The Australian government urges the new government of Egypt to reflect on what message is being sent to the world about the situation in Egypt," Bishop said. "Freedom and freedom of the press is fundamental to a democracy, and we are deeply concerned that this verdict is part of a broader attempt to muzzle the media freedom that upholds democracies around the world."

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.

Different sentence

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 a hunger strike that he began in 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, and plans to hold parliamentary elections later this year.

(VOA correspondent Lisa Shlein contributed to this story from Geneva, Switzerland.)

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by: kerri from: US
June 23, 2014 7:48 PM
Considering the fact that the US interference in the Arab Spring caused utter chaos and destroyed the tourism of this country. This once lucrative country is now a violent and dangerous version of it's former self. I do not blame Egypt one bit for not listening to outside interference. The Muslim Brotherhood is an enemy to Egypt. Media is now all one sided. You really can only believe part of what you hear. When a news organization is defending terrorists, you know their version of a story is propaganda and biased.

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
June 23, 2014 12:55 PM
Egypt outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, therefore all its supporters should have found their way out of the country rather than wait to be arrested, detained, and later jailed. That's stupidity on the part of the reporters. I have heard about reporters not allowed into Syria because of its civil war and what the ruling government wants. That opinion was respected by leading media houses around the globe, and some who waited to see did not live to tell the story. There is no playing macho in this matter.

Al Jazeera should have taken the cue and leave as Egypt pronounced the ban on Muslim Brotherhood. That on one part. Navi Pilay asking Egypt to release the journalists does not sound democratic at all. How does she mean? What happens to hiring of lawyers to apply judicial principles since it has gone through litigation? If Jullie Bishop's allegation that the sentencing does not support Egypt's claim to democracy is to be accepted, what then supports Egypt's claim to democracy, sentencing without a court process?

Let's put cajoling aside, Egypt accused the journalists of terrorism for supporting a terrorist outfit, were the journalists truly involved? Or were their reporting bad and lopsided enough to merit what they have been handed? If the jury was convinced that the journalists ran foul to the law, what should Al Jazeera or anyone else at that do? It is time to tell the pen-manias that the world does not belong to them and that they cannot always have it their way - feeding the public what they wish whether true or false, offensive or acrimonious, in so far as it pleased them to do so. Kudos to the Egyptian court for daring the world of journalism.

by: Moniq from: Canada
June 23, 2014 12:28 PM
the truth is that Al Jazeera is a terrorist organization disguised as a "news organization" - Al Jazeera did promote the cause of the Muslim Brotherhood... of course there are the "Western" useful idiots... there is not "free" media in Qatar... nor in Saudi Arabia... and not Arab dictatorship... its time we face some facts...
In Response

by: Ali baba from: New york
June 23, 2014 2:35 PM
The issue is the harsh sentence. Qatar and Al jazz aria are not prisoned. those journalist have the direction from their boss . if they are not following the direction they lose their job and they paid the price is too expensive. i agree that Muslim brotherhood and Qatar are acting viciously. The Muslim brotherhood does not care about fairness and justice, no matter what is happening to these journalist is not matter for Muslim brotherhood which they are terrorist organization

by: Sci Guy BM from: USA
June 23, 2014 10:18 AM
Wonderful. About time media is help accountable for their lies and falsehoods, their misinformation and deceptions. Only wish they'd start trials here in the USA. First up: liberal left. Next; religious right.

by: ali bab from: new york
June 23, 2014 5:36 AM
The sentence is too harsh. If Egyptian Gov. believe that their media coverage is not fair ,they should deported them and not to put them in jail for seven years .El jazz aria and Qatar have to be blamed. the Egyptian Gov. use them as scapegoat.

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