Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has rejected foreign criticism that followed the sentencing of three journalists to seven years or more in maximum security prison.
Australian journalist Peter Greste and Canadian-Egyptian Mohammed Fahmy were sentenced on Monday to seven years in prison on charges of defaming Egypt and spreading false news that harms the nation’s interests. Their colleague Baher Mohamed received a 10 year sentence on similar charges.
The three journalists and their lawyers denied the charges and are expected to appeal against the verdict.
Following the news of their sentencing, Al-Jazeera’s Acting Director-General Mostefa Souag exclaimed his outrage and shock at the verdict.
Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera English’s Managing Director Al Anstey called the sentencing illogical.
“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,” said Al Anstey.
“Today three colleagues and friends were sentenced, and will continue behind bars for doing a brilliant job of being great journalists. ‘Guilty’ of covering stories with great skill and integrity. ‘Guilty’ of defending people’s right to know what is going on in their world.”
Condemnations flow from across the globe
Moments following the verdict, Australia’s Foreign Minister told reporters that Australia was “deeply dismayed” at the severity of the sentence. The Foreign Minister vowed to take all necessary steps to encourage the Egyptian government to intervene.
In a phone call to Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi a day before the verdict, Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott congratulated Egypt’s government on its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and appealed for the release of Peter Greste.
“I congratulated him on the work that the new government of Egypt had done to crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood, which is, if you like, the spiritual author and father of some of these even more radical groups,” said the Australian Prime Minister.
“But I did make the point that Peter Greste was an Australian journalist and I assured him, as a former journalist myself, that Peter Greste would have been reporting the Muslim Brotherhood, not supporting the Muslim Brotherhood because that’s what Australian journalists do.”
Meanwhile, the White House expressed its condemnation of the conviction of journalists in Egypt, explaining that the move is a “blow to democratic progress in Egypt.”
During his visit to Baghdad, a day after a surprise trip to Cairo, US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his “displeasure” with the court’s “chilling and draconian” verdict against the jailed journalists.
The United Kingdom’s Prime Minister David Cameron equally expressed his shock, stating that the UK was “completely appalled” by the verdict.
Australia, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands have summoned Egypt’s Ambassadors to protest the conviction.
Human rights activists, including the United Nation’s outgoing Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay have joined international dignitaries in condemning the jail sentences.
Egypt rejects foreign criticism
Despite the international condemnations, Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has rejected criticism of the sentencing, stating that the judiciary is independent.
“The Egyptian foreign ministry strongly rejects any comment from a foreign party that casts doubt on the independence of the Egyptian judiciary and the justice of its verdicts,” said the Foreign Ministry in a press statement.
“The foreign ministry once again affirms that any interference in its internal affairs is rejected… and this is what the foreign minister confirmed in several contacts with international parties recently.”
Yet, the rejection of the Foreign Ministry is unlikely to subdue the international outcry, as foreign governments, journalists and activists have vowed to express their dismay with the Egyptian government.