30 Aug 2015

Journalist jailing shocks Al Jazeera

3:47 pm on 30 August 2015

The Al Jazeera Network says it is shocked an Egyptian court has again found three of its journalists guilty of broadcasting false news.

Marwa Fahmy (C), the wife of Canadian Al-Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy (unseen), reacts as she sits next to Amal Clooney (R), the human rights lawyer representing Fahmy, during the trial of her husband and Egyptian Baher Mohamed,

Marwa Fahmy, wife of jailed Al-Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy turns to lawyer Amal Clooney on hearing the verdict. Photo: AFP

Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed were found guilty at a retrial of helping the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

The court in Cairo sentenced them to three years in prison.

Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, who are being held in Egypt, were there to hear the verdict, but Australian Peter Greste was deported in February and was on trial again in absentia.

The Al Jazeera Network said the verdict defied logic and common sense.

At a news conference, the broadcaster's director of news, Giles Trendle, said there was no evidence against the journalists.

"We are shocked, sickened and appalled by today's verdict.

"They were arrested on false charges. They were convicted without a shred of evidence. At no point during the long drawn out retrial did any of the allegations stand up to scrutiny."

International outrage

The governments of Britain, Canada, Australia and the United Nations have all expressed concern over the verdict and restrictions on freedom of expression in Egypt.

The United States echoed this criticism, saying it was "deeply disappointed and concerned" at the three-year jail sentences.

The State Department urged Egypt to "take all available measures to redress this verdict, which undermines the very freedom of expression necessary for stability and development.

"The freedom of the press to investigate, report, and comment - even when its perspective is unpopular or disputed - is fundamental to any free society and essential to democratic development," spokesperson John Kirby said.

Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, was "dismayed" by the sentences and said she would push for Egypt's government to intervene in the case and grant Greste a presidential pardon.

Amnesty International has called for the journalists' immediate release. Its New Zealand executive director, Grant Bayldon, said the verdict made a mockery of the Egyptian justice system and sent a clear message about its stance on media freedom.

"A very loud signal has been sent to journalists right throughout Egypt that they cannot report freely they cannot do their jobs. This will lead to more self-censorship and the risk of more journalists being locked up."

Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who is representing Mohammed Fahmy, flew in from London to give her support at the retrial.

When it was announced that the convictions were upheld, the court erupted in chaos and tears.

Al-Jazeera news channel's Australian journalist Peter Greste, left, and his colleagues, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, centre, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed listen to the original verdict in June.

Peter Greste, left, and his colleagues, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, centre, and Baher Mohamed listen to the original verdict in June 2014. Photo: AFP

Although Greste will avoid the jail time, his two colleagues were immediately taken back into police custody, without the chance to say goodbye to their families.

Mr Greste said the convictions were "truly devastating" and described the decision as morally "wrong on so many levels".

"Anyone who watched the trial, and we had many people broadcasting or reporting on the trial ... none saw any evidence to substantiate the allegations.

"So we need also to call on international pressure, on governments and diplomats around the world, to make it clear to Egypt that it cannot make these kinds of judgments."

The prosecution accused the defendants of creating and spreading media footage that was "contrary to reality" and in the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood.

They were also charged with operating in Egypt without a licence.

The three vehemently deny all charges.

Egypt thrown into chaos

In 2013, Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi - a member of the Muslim Brotherhood - was deposed in a military coup following mass protests throughout the country.

The move, by former the army leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, was countered by mass sit-ins, protests and demonstrations from Muslim Brotherhood and democracy supporters.

The military launched a sweeping crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, anti-nationalistic journalism outlets and anti-Mubarak activists that continues to this day.

In August the military violently dispersed the Brotherhood's sit-in in Rabaa square, killing hundreds of demonstrators. In the following months, hundreds of Egyptians were killed and thousands jailed without trial.

Al Jazeera's Cairo bureau was closed down by state authorities amid accusations that its English component was a platform for unpatriotic revolution and its Arabic counterpart was a mouthpiece for the Muslim Brotherhood.

But Al Jazeera's staff continued reporting, using hotel rooms and local facilities around the country.

Al-Jazeera journalist, Canadian Mohamed Fahmy (L), talks to human rights lawyer, Amal Clooney (R), during the retrial in the capital Cairo on August 29, 2015

Al-Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy (L), talks to his lawyer Amal Clooney (R). Photo: AFP

In the last days of 2013, Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed were arrested in their Marriott hotel room.

Egypt's Interior Ministry claimed the journalists used their rooms to meet with Muslim Brotherhood members and "broadcast news that harms national security as well as spread false information for Al Jazeera, without the approval of relevant authorities."

Mohamed Fahmy was Al Jazeera's Cairo bureau chief, while Baher Mohamed was an Egyptian producer for the network.

Australian Peter Greste had been in Egypt for only a few weeks, working with the two as a correspondent, his first time in the country.

Analysts say the journalists are caught up in a battle that is not theirs. They maintain that the case is related to an ongoing political battle between Egypt and Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based.

-BBC, ABC

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