CAIRO: Attorney General Hisham Barakat‘s office has issued a statement about the seven- to 10-year prison sentences handed down Monday to three Al Jazeera English reporters in which it rejected interference in the State’s internal affairs, said a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The three reporters were arrested in December 2013 and were charged with reporting false news and aiding a terrorist group. Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy were sentenced to seven years, while three additional years were handed to Baher Mohamed over charges of possession of ammunition.
A number of Egyptian ambassadors abroad were summoned to comment on the verdict against the foreign defendants in what has been called “The Marriott Cell” case because Greste and Fahmy were working out of the Cairo Marriott at the time of their arrest. In response, Barakat released the statement which he said was meant to “avoid any inaccuracies or false conclusions that could undermine the independence of the judiciary,” according to a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“The Egyptian judiciary enjoys full independence, and the new constitution provides safeguards to ensure media freedom and to guarantee due process in judicial proceedings,” said the statement.
It further added that the defendants “still have the right to appeal the verdict before the relevant court” as they are tried before normal courts and judges according to the Egyptian Penal Code.
Among the 20 defendants, there are three more foreigners: Britons Dominic Kane and Sue Turton, and the Dutch Rena Netjes, who are being tried in absentia along with eight other Egyptians.
Netjes flew out of Egypt last February after she was accused of being part of a terror cell and a member of the “Marriott Cell” AFP reported.
In a statement, Netjes said she was linked to the group because she had “an appointment to interview one of Al Jazeera’s journalists because he is a Sinai specialist,” and her passport was copied at the hotel, “so it was easy to make a link.”
Human rights organizations and press groups have widely condemned the verdict and other perceived clampdowns on press freedom since June 30.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement Monday to condemn the court ruling and described the convictions as “shocking, and an extremely disturbing sign for the future of the Egyptian press.”
The CPJ statement also demanded Egyptian authorities immediately release the journalists.
In related news, Al Jazeera reporter Abdullah Elshamy was arrested on Aug. 14, 2013 and started a hunger strike on Jan. 21 to protest his renewed detention without evidence of charges against him. He has since been released pending his trial.
Shamy was reported to have lost a third of his body weight and his health deteriorated after more than 120 days on hunger strike.