‘Slap in the face’ as Egypt jails journalists for seven years

Foreign Secretary William Hague
Foreign Secretary William Hague
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THE FAMILY of a former BBC journalist who was one of three Al Jazeera reporters sentenced to seven years in prison in Egypt has said they are “devastated”, calling the verdicts “a slap in the face for freedom of speech”.

Their statement comes as Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “completely appalled” by the guilty verdicts.

Australian-born Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian acting Cairo bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy, and Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed, were sentenced for charges relating to terrorism, having been arrested in December as part of a crackdown on Islamist supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.

Before the sentencing yesterday members of Mr Greste’s family were in court. Shortly after the verdicts the family wrote on a Facebook page called ‘Free Peter Greste’. “We are so devastated” they said. “Peter has received seven years. This is not the end. Please make noise, this is unjust and a slap in the face for freedom of speech and media.”

A demonstration calling for their release was held by journalists, politicians and human rights activists who gathered outside the Egyptian embassy in London in February.

A letter sent earlier this year from media outlets including BBC News, ITN, Sky, Reuters, NBC News and ABC News to Egyptian authorities called for those detained to be set free.

The letter described Mr Greste as “a fine, upstanding correspondent who has proved his impartiality over many years, whichever of our organisations he has been working for, and in whichever country”.

It went on to say that Greste was being put on trial because of the Egyptian government’s decision on December 25 to add the Muslim Brotherhood to its list of terrorist organisations.

Mr Greste had written that when this happened “it knocked the middle ground out of the discourse. When the other side, political or otherwise, is a ‘terrorist’, there is no neutral way... So, even talking to them becomes an act of treason, let alone broadcasting their news, however benign.”

There were 17 other co-defendants in the case, including two British journalists and a Dutch journalist who were not in Egypt. Eight others being tried in their absence each received 10-year prison sentences.

Al Jazeera’s English managing director Al Anstey said the sentencing of the journalists defied any “logic, sense, and any semblance of justice”.

“Today three colleagues and friends were sentenced, and will continue to be kept behind bars for doing a brilliant job of being great journalists,” said Mr Anstey. “Guilty’ of covering stories with great skill and integrity. ‘Guilty’ of defending people’s right to know what is going on in their world.

“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.”