Monday, June 23, brought chilling news when the long anticipated sentencing for Al Jazeera’s English-language network journalists – Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed – was announced.
The Cairo courtroom judge, Judge Mohammed Nagi Shehata, gave the verdict of two seven-year sentences and a 10-year one. Three journalists have been convicted of supporting Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and false reporting. Mohamed received the additional three years for possession of an article of spent ammunition. Other journalists who were also convicted of 10-year sentences included Sue Turton, Dominic Kane and Rena Netjes, who were not present for the sentencing.
The three have been in jail since they were arrested late last year. Huff Post reports that the three were taken into custody in December while covering anti-government protests. During the trial there was no evidence of said accusations, thus leaving a shred of hope for their release. Expectations of release continued to rise when fellow Al Jazeera journalist, Abdullah Elshamy, was released from prison last week after his hunger strike endangered his health. Despite those updates, expectations were shattered.
The conclusion of their cases have brought disapproval from many international rights groups and leaders including those in the U.S.. Secretary of State John Kerry just met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Sunday as a sign of the restored alliance with the government. Kerry was said to be taken aback by Monday’s verdict.
“Today’s conviction is obviously a chilling and draconian sentence,” The New York Times reported he said. “When I heard the verdict today I was so concerned about it, frankly, disappointed in it, that I immediately picked up the telephone and talked to the foreign minister of Egypt and registered our serious displeasure at this kind of verdict.”
Others who denounced the verdict included David Drake, the Canadian ambassador, stated the New York Times.
“There is no incriminating evidence with regard to the charges and there were multiple procedural shortcomings,” Drake said. “Therefore, we do not understand this verdict.”
Al Jazeera continues to stand behind its journalists, which can be seen through the Twitter campaign #freeAJstaff and its full-page ad that ran in the Sunday edition of the New York Times.
“Today three colleagues and friends were sentenced, and will continue to be kept 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,” Al Jazeera English managing director, Al Anstey, said in a statement.
“Peter, Mohamed, and Baher and six of our other colleagues were sentenced despite the fact that not a shred of evidence was found to support the extraordinary and false charges against them. At no point during the long drawn out ‘trial’ did the absurd allegations stand up to scrutiny…”
It’s said that Greste, Fahmy and Mohammed will appeal the decision made today, but that it could take years to do so.