SYDNEY: Australian Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste has voiced his “outrage” at being jailed for seven years by an Egyptian court, saying the case was about silencing critical voices.
“I am devastated and outraged” by the verdict, he said in a message conveyed by his brothers who visited him in a Cairo prison a day after the sentencing, and posted on the Free Peter Greste Facebook page Thursday.
Greste and his colleague, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, were both sentenced to the same term on Monday for aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood and “spreading false news”.
Their producer Baher Mohamed was handed 10 years in a decision that sparked global outrage and fears of growing media restrictions in Egypt.
Eleven of 20 defendants who stood trial were given 10-year sentences in absentia, including one Dutch journalist and two Britons.
“Throughout this trial, the prosecutor has consistently failed to present a single piece of concrete evidence to support the outrageous allegations against us,” 48-year-old Greste said in the statement.
“At the same time our lawyers have highlighted countless procedural errors, irregularities and abuses of due process that should have had the entire case thrown out of court many times over.”
The former BBC reporter said he intended to consider all possible measures to overturn the conviction, although he did not mention an appeal, which could take months to go through the courts.
“The verdict confirms that our trial was never simply about the charges against us,” he said in the statement, as remembered by his brothers Mike and Andrew who were not allowed writing materials in the prison.
“It has been an attempt to use the court to intimidate and silence critical voices in the media.
“That is why I know that our freedom, and more importantly the freedom of Egypt’s press, will never come without noisy, sustained pressure from individuals, human rights groups, governments and anyone who understands the fundamental importance of a free press to Egypt’s fledgling democracy.”
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told ABC national radio after the verdict that “there’s no doubt that the proceedings in the first place were politically motivated”.
Since the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, the Egyptian authorities have been incensed by Al Jazeera’s coverage of their deadly crackdown on his supporters.
They consider the pan-Arab satellite network as the voice of Qatar, and accuse Doha of backing Morsi’s Brotherhood, while the emirate openly denounces the repression of the Islamist supporters.
Canberra and the United States are leading calls for President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to pardon the journalists, although the new Egyptian leader has said authorities will not interfere with the justice system.
A presidency official in Cairo told AFP earlier this week that Sisi could not legally do anything until a final court ruling after any appeals.
Andrew Greste told the ABC he was amazed at his brother’s resilience inside the harsh Tora prison complex.
“He was remarkably together, it’s unbelievable really,” he said.
His parents said on Tuesday that while the family was devastated, their fight had now moved beyond their son’s fate.
“The campaign for media freedom and free speech must never end. Journalism is not a crime,” said his father Juris.
Peter Greste added in his statement that “we must all remain committed to fight this gross injustice for as long as necessary.”
The Al Jazeera ruling is the latest issue in Egypt to stoke concern over rights groups since a 2011 uprising toppled long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Since Morsi’s ouster, political unrest has reached unprecedented levels in Egypt, with more than 1,400 people killed and at least 15,000 jailed in a government crackdown.