Global outrage over jailing of Al Jazeera journalists

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Al Jazeera Turk / Twitter

There has been international condemnation of an Egyptian court’s verdicts that will see three Al Jazeera journalists imprisoned on charges related to spreading false news and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

Al Jazeera English journalists Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy were each jailed for seven years, whilst their colleague Baher Mohamed was also handed down an additional three-year sentence for possession of ammunition, making his sentence 10 years.

Seven other Al Jazeera journalists who were being tried in absentia were given 10 year prison sentences.

Patrick Kingsley, a reporter for UK newspaper The Guardian, was in court as the verdicts were handed down.

Families

Kingsley described the reactions of some of the journalists’ families, reporting Australian national Greste’s brother Andrew as saying: ”I’m just stunned. It’s difficult to comprehend how they can have reached this decision.”

Later, he tweeted:

Kingsley also reported that Fahmy’s mother and fiancée both broke down in tears, while his brother Adel, who traveled from his home in Kuwait for the verdict, reacted with fury:

“This is not a system. This is not a country. They’ve ruined our lives. It shows everything that’s wrong with the system: it’s corrupt. This country is corrupt through and through.”

Fahmy’s mother is reported to have left the court in tears.

International reaction

Several foreign governments and international human rights organizations have also reacted to the verdict.

The UK Foreign Office has announced that it has summoned the Egyptian ambassador in London over the sentencing. Two of the journalists convicted in absentia, Sue Turton and Dominic Kane, are British nationals.

British Foreign Minister William Hague has said he is “appalled” by the verdict.

The Dutch government has also summoned the Egyptian Ambassador to the Netherlands, and said that it will “raise the matter” with European Union colleagues. Dutch journalist Rena Netjes was also convicted in absentia this morning.

Meanwhile, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop gave a media statement stating that the Greste family were currently seeking legal advice, which may include a legal appeal.

Bishop said the Australian government was also hoping to “initiate contact” with the Egyptian President “to see if we can gain some kind of intervention”.

She told journalists: “We are shocked by this verdict. “Freedom of the press is fundamental in a democracy. We are deeply concerned that this verdict is part of a broader attempt to muzzle the media freedom [in Egypt].”

The Australian journalists’ union MEAA immediately issued a statement condemning the verdicts, saying it called on Egyptian authorities to “urgently intervene to free the three journalists who have been detained for simply doing their jobs”. The full statement can be viewed here.

And Mohamed Lofty, an observer for Amnesty International, is reported to have said:

The Qatari government has not yet issued an official statement on today’s verdict.

Al Jazeera’s view

Throughout the trial, and following the verdict, Al Jazeera has maintained that its journalists are innocent.

Al Jazeera’s Acting Director General Mostefa Souag has said that the channel is “outraged, very angry and very shocked” at the verdicts.

The Doha-based broadcaster said it would continue its campaign to free its staff. Al Jazeera English Managing Director Al Anstey issued a statement, in which he described the verdict as one which “defies logic, sense and any semblance of justice”:

“There is no justification whatsoever in the detention of our three colleagues for even one minute.  To have detained them for 177 Days is an outrage. To have sentenced them defies logic, sense, and any semblance of justice.”

A full version of the statement can be viewed here. Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton was one of the journalists who was tried and sentenced in absentia today.  Speaking on Al Jazeera English, she said:

“This has frozen us. But that’s nothing compared to being incarcerated and looking at years in prison. The world can not turn away from this. Just keep pushing.”

Twitter support Thousands of messages of support appeared on Twitter, under the hashtags #FreeAJStaff, #Journalismisnotacrime  and #AJTrial within just minutes of the verdict. These included support from journalists around the world.

Thoughts?

About Lesley Walker

Lesley Walker is a journalist with Doha News. Prior to moving to Qatar in 2012, she worked in London as a reporter and sub-editor for national newspapers and news agencies. Lesley has a post-graduate diploma in journalism from Glasgow Caledonian University/University of Strathclyde and an MA in International Relations from University of St Andrews, UK.

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