Egyptian Court Sentences Al-Jazeera Journalists To Three Years In Prison

al-jazeera journalists sentenced to prison in egyptAn Egyptian court sentenced three Al-Jazeera TV journalists to three years in prison on Saturday for operating without a press license and broadcasting material harmful to Egypt, a case that has stirred an international outcry.

The verdict in a retrial was issued against Mohamed Fahmy, a naturalized Canadian who has given up his Egyptian citizenship, Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian, and Peter Greste, an Australian who was deported in February.

The three were accused of aiding the banned Muslim Brotherhood group but they strenuously denied the allegations.

The three journalists were originally sentenced in July 2014, with Mr Greste and Mr Fahmy receiving seven years and Mr Mohamed getting 10 years.

But their convictions were overturned in January this year and they were freed in February to await retrial.

Rights advocates said their arrest was part of a crackdown on free speech since the Army overthrew President Mohamed Mursi, a senior Muslim Brotherhood figure, in July 2013 following mass unrest over his rule.

Judge Hassan Farid said the defendants, dubbed the “Marriott Cell” by the local press because they worked out of a hotel belonging to that chain, ” they are not journalists and not members of the press syndicate” and broadcast with unlicensed equipment.

He handed three-year sentences to Mr Greste and Mr Fahmy but gave Mr Mohamed an additional six months.

The three men were originally sentenced to between seven to 10 years in prison on charges including spreading lies to help a terrorist organization, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood which the military toppled from power two years ago.

The three defendants denied all charges, calling them absurd. Three other Egyptians, all students, also received three-year sentences for the same charges.

Speaking on Al-Jazeera in reaction to Saturday’s verdict, Greste said he was shocked at the scale of the sentence. “Words really don’t do justice,” he said. “To be given a three-year sentence is outrageous. It is just devastating for me.”

Fahmy and Mohamed, who had been released on bail in February after over a year in jail, were taken back into custody after the verdict.

Peter Greste In Australia After Release From Egyptian Jail

gresteAfter spending over 400 days in an Egyptian jail, Al-Jazeera journalist, Peter Greste, has returned to Brisbane, Australia, following his release from prison.

At a news conference, the journalist described his relief and praised the long campaign to free him and his colleagues.

Greste said, “I can’t tell you how ecstatic I am to be here. This is a moment that I’ve rehearsed in my mind at least 400 times over 400 days.”

Mr Greste and two of his colleagues were arrested in 2013. They were convicted of spreading false news and aiding the banned Muslim brotherhood.

He had been sentenced to seven years on charges rejected by Al Jazeera that included aiding a terrorist group in a case that had attracted widespread attention and criticism of Egypt’s leadership and judiciary.

His colleagues, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, remain in prison.

Egypt’s President, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, issued a decree in November 2014 granting him the power to deport foreign defendants convicted or accused of crimes.

“If it’s right for me to be free then it’s right for all of us… I think that Egypt now has an opportunity to show that justice doesn’t depend on your nationality,” Greste said at a Brisbane news conference, flanked by members of his family.

Al Jazeera Journalist, Peter Greste Released

al jazeera journalistAl Jazeera journalist Peter Greste was released from a Cairo jail on Sunday and left Egypt to Cyrus after 400 days in prison on charges that included aiding a terrorist group.

The Australian ex-BBC correspondent was arrested in December 2013 and tried with his two Al Jazeera colleagues on charges that included spreading false news and aiding the Muslim Brotherhood.

There was no official word on the fate of his two Al Jazeera colleagues – Canadian-Egyptian, Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian National, Baher Mohamed.

The three were sentenced to seven to 10 years on charges including spreading lies to help a terrorist organization – a reference to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr Fahmy, who holds dual Egyptian and Canadian citizenship, may be freed after having his Egyptian Nationality was revoked.

All the defendants denied the charges against them and said their trial was a sham.

They were accused of collaborating with the banned Muslim Brotherhood after the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi by the Military in 2013.

In their defence, the three men said they were simply reporting the news.

Many Egyptians see Qatar-based Al Jazeera as a force set on destabilizing the country, a view that had been encouraged in the Local Media which labeled the Journalists “The Marriott Cell”, because they worked from a hotel of the U.S.based chain.

Egyptian authorities accused Al Jazeera of being a mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Qatar-backed movement which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi toppled in 2013 when he was Egypt’s army chief.

The timing of Greste’s release came as a surprise, just days after Egypt suffered one of the bloodiest militant attacks in years. More than 30 members of the security forces were killed on Thursday night in Sinai, and ensuing comments from Sisi suggested he was in no mood for compromise.

The Interior Ministry said on its Facebook page that Sisi released Greste under a decree issued in November authorizing the President to approve the deportation of foreign prisoners.

Egyptian Court Calls For Retrial Of Three Jailed Al Jazeera Journalists

Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, Peter GresteAn Egyptian court’s call for a retrial of three jailed Al Jazeera journalists acknowledges major flaws in the original convictions but leaves the men in unjust incarceration, Amnesty International said on Thursday.

“By calling for a retrial the Egyptian courts are prolonging the injustice that Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed have faced,” said Hassiba Hadjsahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director.

“These men should never have been jailed in the first place and should not have to spend one more day in prison. Instead of prolonging their unjust detention pending a retrial, they must be freed immediately.”

The Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest court of law, ruled that there had been procedural failings in the trial of Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed. The three are now set to face a retrial.

The trio are serving sentences of between seven and 10 years for “falsifying news” and involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which the authorities allege is involved in terrorism-related activity.

The Court of Cassation did not review the facts of the case and does not have the power to acquit the men of the charges against them. However, it found that the court that jailed the men had not followed correct legal procedures.

An Amnesty International trial observer recorded several irregularities and examples of complete ineptitude during the trial proceedings.

In 12 court sessions, the prosecution failed to produce a single shred of solid evidence linking the journalists to an organization involved in terrorism, or prove they had “falsified” news footage.

“The trial of these three men was a complete farce. Their only crime was to challenge the political narrative of the authorities,” said Hassiba Hadjsahraoui.

“All three are prisoners of conscience, targeted simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression in carrying out legitimate activities as journalists.”

At least 16,000 people have been detained as part of a sweeping crackdown on dissent in Egypt, with activists estimating that the true figure is much higher.
Those targeted include government opponents and critics, as well as media workers and human rights activists.

Meanwhile, courts have acquitted security forces of killing detainees and thrown out criminal charges against former president Hosni Mubarak for conspiring to crush the “25 January Revolution”.

“The Court of Cassation’s decision bucks the current trend in Egypt’s criminal justice system, which is more than ever becoming a rubber stamp endorsing repression by the authorities,” Hassiba Hadjsahraoui said .

“Courts are busy locking up government critics and political activists, while letting security forces and officials responsible for gross human rights violations walk free.”

Egypt’s President Sisi ‘Regrets’ Al-Jazeera Journalists Trial

aljazeera_journoEgypt’s President, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, has said he wishes the three al-Jazeera journalists imprisoned last month had never been put on trial.

Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were sentenced to between seven and 10 years in jail after being found guilty of aiding a “terrorist group”.

Mr Sisi was quoted by the al-Masry al-Youm newspaper late on Sunday as saying the trial had “very negative effects”.

His remarks received a mixed response from the journalists’ families.

Foreign governments, media organisations and human rights groups accused the Egyptian authorities of restricting freedom of speech.

Al-Jazeera said it defied “logic, sense and any semblance of justice”.

At a meeting with local journalists on Sunday, President Sisi sought to counter claims that the case had been politically motivated.

“The verdict issued against a number of journalists had very negative effects; and we had nothing to do with it,” he said, according to al-Masry al-Youm. “I wished they were deported immediately after they were arrested instead of being put on trial.”

Mohammed Abdul Hadi Allam, the editor of the state-run al-Ahram newspaper, and Imad Hussein, the editor of the private daily al-Shurouq, confirmed to the BBC that the quotes were accurate.

The president had wanted to distance himself from the case, insisting he would not interfere with the judiciary.

His latest remarks will therefore raise hopes that he might issue pardons to set the journalists free, but under the Egyptian law such pardons can only happen after the appeals process had ended.

Jailed Al-Jazeera Journalists: Australia Summons Top Egyptian Diplomat

aljazeera_journoAustralia has summoned a senior Egyptian diplomat, on Tuesday, to protest against the sentencing of an Australian reporter, who is one of the three Al Jazeera journalists jailed for seven years by an Egyptian judge.

The three journalists, including Australian, Peter Greste, all denied charges of working with the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

A spokeswoman for Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, said that the Egyptian Ambassador was currently in Cairo.

So, the Egyptian charge d’affaires, Sherif Abdelaziz Bedeir Hussein was summoned to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra so that Australia could further “express its disappointment”.

Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, however, struck a cautious tone, somewhat softening his government’s initial outrage.

“What we don’t want to do is engage in unhelpful megaphone diplomacy because that won’t do Peter Greste any good, it won’t do his two AlJazeera colleagues any good.

“What we want to do is to talk calmly and patiently and reasonably to the Egyptian government.

“We want is what’s best for the long-term interests of Egypt as well as what’s best for Peter Greste and his colleagues…my vocabulary fails to convey just how shattered we are”, Abbott told reporters in Canberra.

Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, revealed that steps were being taken to lodge a formal diplomatic request to President Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi of Egypt, although they have been informed that that the President cannot consider a plea of clemency or a pardon until such time as all of the legal proceedings, including appeals, have being concluded.

Greste was sentenced along with Canadian-Egyptian national, Mohamed Fahmy, who was the Cairo bureau chief of Al Jazeera English, and Egyptian
producer, Baher Mohamed, who was given a further three year term for possession of a single bullet.

The sentence has caused outrage in Australia, with at least one senior politician going so far as to raise the possibility of levelling sanctions against Egypt’s government, something Abbott’s government has so far ruled out.

Meanwhile, Greste’s parents told a news conference in Brisbane, that the verdict was an attack on free speech everywhere and it has left them “shattered”. It is believed that they may be considering an appeal.

Nigerian Journalists Protest Continuous Detention Of Colleagues In Egypt

President of the West African Union of Journalists, Mr Mohammed Garba has criticised the continuous detention of four journalists in Egypt saying it is a deliberate attempt to gag journalists in the country.

Addressing journalists in Abuja shortly after leading a peaceful procession, Mr Garba, who is also the President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, appealed to the Egyptian government to immediately release the affected journalists who have been in detention for eight months without trial.

Father of one of the journalists, who works for a foreign news media, Aljazeera, Mr El-Shami Noshi said his son Abdullah is now on hunger strike following his detention without trial.

He also noted that his son’s only offence was that he was caught carrying a camera as a journalist.

The hashtag #FreeAJStaff has gone viral worldwide, with a quarter of a billion impressions on Twitter alone since 1 February 2014. The campaign has already had an outpouring of popular and political support worldwide, with institutions including the White House, European Union and the United Nations calling for the release of the journalists.

The campaign looks set to ramp up further with public events taking place in Nairobi, Sydney, Manila, Islamabad, Doha, Amman, Ankara, Berlin, London, Rio, Montreal, Washington DC and San Francisco on Thursday. Every continent of the world will see action.

It is hoped that the campaign will force Egyptian authorities to hasten the release of Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Abdullah El Shami.