Al Jazeera journalists convicted in Egypt: White House, worldwide reaction
Published Monday, June 23, 2014 12:39PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, June 23, 2014 9:06PM EDT
Journalists, human rights groups, and governments worldwide are condemning the seven-year jail sentence handed down to three Al Jazeera English journalists following a trial that’s been criticized for failing to present any credible evidence of wrongdoing.
The family of Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, one of the three men convicted Monday morning, have called the terrorism-related charges against him "ridiculous", while foreign governments have said the guilty verdicts fly in the face of the basic rights that are essential to any democracy.
"I am appalled by the guilty verdicts handed down today against Egyptian and international journalists in Egypt," U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement released Monday.
Among those found guilty were Fahmy's co-workers, Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, and two British journalists, Sue Turton and Dominic Kane, who were being tried in absentia.
"I am particularly concerned by unacceptable procedural shortcomings during the trial process, including that key prosecution evidence was not made available to the defence team," Hague said, adding that he's "repeatedly" raised the case with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
At a news conference in Brisbane, Greste’s parents, Lois and Juris, called the verdict a “slap in the face” for Australia, and vowed to keep fighting for their son’s release.
“You can never prepare yourself for something as painful as this,” his father Juris Greste said, reading from a prepared statement. “However, we are absolutely determined and committed to continue this battle until Peter as well as his colleagues are all out of prison and free to do and go wherever they decide.”
He added that the campaign for media freedom and free speech “must never end.”
“We trust that the large number of supporters and people interested in this matter will continue and swell,” Juris said.
Holding up a photo of his son, Juris Greste said, “This man, our son Peter, is an award-winning journalist – he’s not a criminal.”
Lois Greste told reporters that the family must “consider all options” in regards to an appeal.
“Until we have all advice on the table and have information about everything, we cannot make a decision,” she said.
#Egypt should review unacceptable sentences against Egyptian and international journalists and show commitment to freedom of the press— William Hague (@WilliamJHague) June 23, 2014
The White House called for the journalists' release.
Spokesperson Josh Earnest said the guilty verdicts follow a number of prosecutions that are "incompatible with the basic precepts of human rights and democratic governance."
Canada's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Consular Issues Lynne Yelich released a statement on Monday, saying she's "disappointed" with the verdict.
“Senior Canadian officials, including Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and myself, have raised and will continue to raise Mr. Fahmy’s case with senior Egyptian authorities," Yelich said. "We will continue to provide consular assistance to Mr. Fahmy, including engaging local Egyptian authorities to ensure his medical needs are being met.”
Canada is very disappointed with the verdict in the case of Mohamed Fahmy. http://t.co/DWptZtcbZ5 1/2— Lynne Yelich (@Lynne_Yelich) June 23, 2014
Regarding this case, I will be contacting my Egyptian counterpart directly to express Canada’s concern. 2/2— Lynne Yelich (@Lynne_Yelich) June 23, 2014
Before the verdicts were announced, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he had spoken with el-Sissi over the weekend and told him that Greste was innocent.
"I did make the point that as an Australian journalist, Peter Greste would not have been supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, he would have simply been reporting on the Muslim Brotherhood," Abbott told reporters in Canberra.
"The point I made was that in the long run, a free and vigorous media are good for democracy, good for security, (and) good for stability," he said.
While no American journalists were being tried, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also voiced his concern to Egypt's foreign minister, saying the verdict flies in the face of the essential ingredients of a civil society and free press.
Outrage over journalists' sentencing takes Twitter by storm
Journalists from around the globe, meanwhile, took to Twitter to condemn the trial which has been described as a "farce" and a "sham."
The hashtags #AJtrial, #FreeAJStaff and #journalismisnotacrime were trending on Twitter Monday morning.
#FreeAJStaff who have been sentenced to 7 yrs in an Egyptian jail for doing their job. This is outrageous and a violation of press freedom— Debora Patta (@Debora_Patta) June 23, 2014
Amnesty International described the verdicts as a "dark day for media freedom" while Human Rights Watch said they were "a stark admission that in today's Egypt, simply practising professional journalism is a crime ... the new constitution's guarantees of free expression are not worth the paper they are written on".