US Condemns Egypt's 'Chilling' Crackdown on Freedoms; Hands Cairo $575 Million in Military Aid
June 24, 2014
Al Jazeera America & BBC News
An Egyptian court has sentenced two Al Jazeera journalists to seven years in prison and an Australian reporter to 10 years, on charges including aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and reporting false news. The sentences sparked worldwide condemnation. US Ambassador called the press crackdown "Draconian" and then announced the White House had authorized the shipment of $575 million in military aid -- including Apache helicopter gunships -- to Egypt's repressive, anti-democratic regime.
White House: Jailing of Al Jazeera staff a 'blow to democracy'
Three journalists -- Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed -- sentenced to serve seven to 10 years in prison, accused by the Egyptian military government of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt Sentences Al Jazeera Journalists to Years in Prison
Al Jazeera America
(June 23, 2014) -- An Egyptian court has sentenced two Al Jazeera journalists to seven years in prison and another to 10 years, on charges including aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and reporting false news.
A judge delivered the verdicts Monday against Peter Greste, an Australian citizen; Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian citizen; and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian citizen. Al Jazeera has always rejected the charges against its journalists and maintains their innocence.
The sentences sparked worldwide condemnation. The White House described the development as "disturbing," adding that it formed part of a succession of prosecutions and court verdicts in Egypt that were "fundamentally incompatible with the basic precepts of human rights and democratic governance."
Greste and Fahmy were sentenced to seven years in prison. Mohamed was sentenced to an additional three years for possession of ammunition. Dominic Kane and Sue Turton, other Al Jazeera journalists tried in absentia, were sentenced to 10 years. Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed were arrested in December in Cairo as they covered the aftermath of the army's removal of Mohamed Morsi from the presidency in July.
The prosecution said Greste, Al Jazeera's East Africa correspondent, and his Egypt bureau colleagues aided the Brotherhood and produced false news reports of the situation in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood, which supported Morsi, was designated a "terrorist" organization by the interim Egyptian government shortly before the accused were arrested.
In the journalists' case, the prosecution produced a number of items as evidence including a BBC podcast, a news report made while none of the accused were in Egypt, a pop video by the Australian singer Gotye and several recordings on non-Egyptian issues. The defense maintained that the journalists were wrongly arrested and that the prosecution had failed to prove any of the charges against them.
"They just ruined a family," said Fahmy's brother Adel Fahmy, who was attending the session. His mother and fiancée broke down in tears. "Who did he kill" to get this sentence? Fahmy's mother, Wafa Bassiouni shouted.
Adel Fahmy said they would appeal the verdict but added that he had little faith in the system. "Everything is corrupt," he said. Greste's brother Andrew said he was "gutted" and also vowed to appeal.
"The only reason these three men are in jail is because the Egyptian authorities don't like what they have to say," Amnesty International said in a news release. The group's observer at the trial, Philip Luther, said the prosecution "failed to produce a single shred of solid evidence linking the journalists to a terrorism organization or proving they had falsified news footage."
"Consigning these men to years in prison after such a farcical spectacle is a travesty of justice," Luther said. "The Egyptian judiciary has proved time and time again that it is either unwilling or incapable of conducting an impartial and fair trial when it comes to those perceived to support the former president."
In addition to the Al Jazeera journalists sentenced Monday, Egypt convicted a group of 16 Egyptians accused of being Brotherhood members, some of whom were tried in absentia and who now face up to 25 years.
A separate Egyptian court sentenced another 80 or more supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to life in prison on Monday on charges ranging from murder to hindering police and blocking streets,
Al Jazeera English managing director Al Anstey called for his colleagues to be released. "Today three colleagues and friends were sentenced and will continue behind bars for doing a brilliant job of being great journalists," Anstey said in a statement. "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."
The verdicts also sparked concern among Western leaders. Secretary of State John Kerry, who on Sunday made a surprise visit to Egypt to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, called the sentences "chilling" and "draconian."
"Injustices like these simply cannot stand if Egypt is to move forward in the way that President Sisi and Foreign Minister (Sameh) Shoukry told me just yesterday that they aspire to see their country advance," Kerry said in a statement. "Today's verdicts fly in the face of the essential role of civil society, a free press, and the real rule of law."
The White House backed up Kerry's statement, saying, "the prosecution of journalists for reporting information that does not coincide with the government of Egypt's narrative, flouts the most basic standards of media freedom and represents a blow to democratic progress in Egypt."
UN High Commisioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Monday that Egypt should release the three journalists, and she condemned the country's recent spate of mass death penalty convictions as "obscene and a complete travesty of justice."
But the Egyptian government rejected those statements, saying the country was capable of governing without outside influence.
"The Egyptian Foreign Ministry fully rejects any state or foreign party to intervene in the internal affairs of either the Egyptian state or to question the independence of the Egyptian judiciary," it said in a statement.
Al Jazeera with wire services
US Unlocks Military Aid to Egypt, Backing President Sisi
(June 22, 2014) -- The US has revealed it has released $575 million (£338 million) in military aid to Egypt that had been frozen since the ousting of President Mohammed Morsi last year. The news came as Secretary of State John Kerry visited Cairo just two weeks after former army chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi was sworn in as president. After talks with the new leader, Mr Kerry stressed the importance of upholding the rights of all Egyptians.
Mr Sisi won May elections, vowing to tackle "terrorism" and bring security. The retired field marshal overthrew Mr Morsi last July amid mass protests against his rule. He has since been pursuing a crackdown on Mr Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which urged a boycott of the 26-28 May elections. Liberal and secular activists also shunned the poll in protest at the curtailing of civil rights.
'Difficult Years of Transition'
State department officials said the military aid was released to the authorities in Cairo about 10 days ago, after getting a green light from Congress. The funds -- from the annual $1.5 billion of chiefly military aid -- will mainly be used to pay existing defense contracts.
The US also promised it would provide 10 Apache attack helicopters for use by the army against militants in the Sinai peninsula.
"The Apaches will come and they will come very, very soon," John Kerry said at joint news conference with his Egyptian counterpart. In "candid" talks with President Sisi on a broad range of issues, Mr Kerry "emphasised also our strong support for upholding the universal rights and freedoms of all Egyptians including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association."
He also pledged that Washington would "stand with the Egyptian people in their fight for the future they want. For Egypt, this is a moment of high stakes and also a big opportunity," Mr Kerry said, acknowledging that a number of promises by Egyptian leaders "are yet to be fulfilled."
"After three difficult years of transition, the United States remains deeply committed to seeing Egypt succeed," he said. Mr Kerry arrived in Cairo on an unannounced visit on Sunday, the most senior US official there since the election.
Egypt remains a strategic ally for Washington, and Mr Kerry's visit so soon after Mr Sisi's inauguration shows the US is still keen to engage actively and early on with the new president in the hope it will make a difference, says the BBC's Kim Ghattas, who is travelling with Mr Kerry. But our correspondent says that the last time Mr Kerry was in Cairo in November his advice was ignored.
Washington fears that the winner-takes-all attitude to politics in the region, from Egypt to Iraq is feeding instability, she adds.
Number of Jailed Journalists Is on the Rise
(June 23, 2014) -- In addition, the Committee to Protect Journalists confirms 16 have been killed reporting the news in 2014.
World Leaders, News Outlets Unite to Condemn Al Jazeera Sentences
Philip J. Victor / Al Jazeera America
(June 23, 2014) -- Condemnation of the prison sentences handed down by Egypt on Al Jazeera journalists including Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed came in swiftly and strongly Monday from the likes of world leaders, news organizations and advocacy groups.
The White House slammed the verdict by calling it a "a blow to democratic progress in Egypt." "The prosecution of journalists for reporting information that does not coincide with the government of Egypt's narrative flouts the most basic standards of media freedom," a statement from the US administration read.
The US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power took to Twitter to express her outrage at the development, saying that the convictions were a "chilling and outrageous attack on press freedom," adding that the verdict "needs to be overturned."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also added his voice to criticism of the jail sentences. "The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by recent court decisions in Egypt, particularly the confirmation of death sentences for 183 people and the sentencing of journalists, including from Al Jazeera today, to lengthy jail terms," a spokesperson said.
The outrage wasn't limited to government officials and world leaders. News outlets around the globe united in solidarity for the imprisoned journalists. Al Anstey, Al Jazeera English's managing director, said the verdicts defied "logic, sense, and any semblance of justice" and other news organizations echoed those remarks.
The BBC's Director of News, James Harding, called the verdict an "act of intimidation against all journalists." Solidarity was also shown by Channel 4 News in the UK, which signed off on its newscasts by showing its news staff wearing black tape across their mouths and holding signs reading #FreeAJStaff. The Channel 4 news website also featured black tape across its page in protest of the verdicts. Other Al Jazeera journalists, including Sue Turton, were tried in absentia and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Turton said Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt were trying to be as balanced and fair as all the other international media outlets operating in the country and that the sentences highlight what the Egyptian government is really trying to accomplish.
"I think basically the Egyptian government is [trying] to shut up anybody that contradicts their narrative of Egypt," she said. "They've shut up the domestic media, they don't say anything against the government any longer and now the international media has started to self-censor, they've become much more muted, much more quiet and they don't go out and interview everybody on all sides of the story."
The Committee to Protect Journalists called the trial "almost farcical."
"Among the evidence admitted were family vacation photos and footage of news reports from other networks on unrelated subjects," the group said. "With all due deference to the reputed independence of the Egyptian judiciary, today's verdict has nothing to the do with the law. It's a transparently politicized result, in which the Al Jazeera journalists have become pawns in a conflict with Qatar over its support for the Muslim Brotherhood," it added.
Amnesty International called the verdict "devastating," and described it as a "dark day for media freedom in Egypt. The only reason these three men are in jail is because the Egyptian authorities don't like what they have to say. They are prisoners of conscience and must be immediately and unconditionally released," said Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther.
Al Jazeera has always rejected the charges, which include aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and reporting false news, and maintains its journalists' innocence.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.