A court in Egypt has convicted three journalists working for the Qatar-based Al Jazeera English to prison terms between seven and 10 years. They were charged with helping the Muslim Brotherhood, endangering national security and creating false news that was detrimental to Egypt’s global image. The harsh ruling against the journalists has sparked much anger among journalists and organizations all across the globe.
The guilty verdicts were announced by a judge against Egyptian-Canadian Bureau Chief Mohamed Fahmy, Australian correspondent Peter Greste, as well as Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian news producer on Monday. Fahmy and Greste were handed prison terms of seven years each, while Mohamed received an additional three years for the possession of ammunition. Mohamed was found with a used bullet casing, which he had picked up from the ground during a protest he was covering for Al Jazeera. A few other journalists belonging to the same news organization, including Sue Turton and Dominic Kane were tried while not present and were sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed have been held by Egyptian authorities since last December. They were arrested during a police raid on two hotel suites that the men had been using as a temporary news bureau as they covered the outcome of the army’s removal of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected head of state from his post in July. After the arrest, they were charged with a range of crimes, including helping an alleged terrorist organization and endangering the security of Egypt. Al Jazeera and the three news professionals have steadfastly refuted all such claims and continue to maintain their innocence.
As the new of the sentences spread, anger and disbelief poured in from domestic and international sources including foreign correspondents, news agencies and various governments. In a statement, the managing director of the news organization, Al Anstey said the judge’s decision had no semblance of logic or justice. Anstey promised to fight for the journalists’ release.
The Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop condemned Egypt for convicting the three Al Jazeera journalists and said that the severity of the sentences had appalled her government. Bishop told reporters that the Australian government could not understand the reasoning behind the harsh sentences given the evidence, which included a pop video by the Australian singer Gotye, a BBC podcast, news clips made while none of the reporters were present in Egypt, and several recordings on non-Egyptian issues.
Director Steve Crawshaw of Amnesty International criticized the court’s decision and called it outrageous and an “absolute affront to justice.” He asserted that the three journalists were being used as pawns in a political standoff being played out between Egypt and it’s neighbor Qatar, which finances Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera’s Arabic and English news broadcasts and Qatar have repeatedly been accused of being biased against the Egyptian army while being sympathetic to Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s oldest and largest opposition group, which has been banned in the country.
The defense continues to affirm that the three men are innocent and that the prosecution had failed to prove any of the charges against them. CNN’s Ian Lee, reporting from outside the Cairo court, said that it was highly likely that a judge could reduce the prison terms or acquit them as the three men appeal their sentences.
The Al Jazeera journalists convicted by the Egyptian court are three of 167 journalists, who have been imprisoned by governments across the world, according to Reporters Without Borders. China leads with 32 journalists in jail, with Eritrea coming in second with 28 journalists behind bars, while Syria has 16 media professionals in prison.
By Monalisa Gangopadhyay