Egypt Rebuffs Global Call to Free Al Jazeera Journalists

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reviews his notes before a meeting with Egyptian Minister of Defense General Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt, on November 3, 2013. (Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

Egypt Rebuffs Global Call to Free Al Jazeera Journalists

In Tuesday speech, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi refuses clemency

Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi announced Tuesday he will not grant clemency to Al Jazeera journalists and other reporters and activists sentenced to prison, despite international calls for their release, including from Egypt's U.S. backers.

In a televised speech delivered Tuesday morning, al-Sisi stated, "There were a lot of discussions about a verdict [on Monday]. I spoke to the minister of justice and agreed that we will not interfere," according to the Egyptian state-run paper Al Ahram.

An Egyptian judge on Monday handed seven to ten year prison terms to three Al Jazeera English journalists--Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed--and a group of students accused of collaborating with them. Two Al Jazeera journalists and a freelance reporter were also sentenced in absentia.

The aggressive prosecution of the defendants, who were charged with spreading "false news" and cast as "terrorists" for allegedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, is widely viewed as part of the Egyptian government's crackdown on free press and political dissent across the country. The military-backed interim government, headed by al-Sisi, killed thousands of people, disappeared hundreds, and detained over 16,000--including numerous journalists and political activists who played key roles in the 2011 overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak.

Monday's verdict, which came less than a month after al-Sisi was sworn in as Egypt's president, sparked outrage and shock in the courtroom and uproar around the world, including condemnation from human rights organization, journalists, and governments.

Sherif Gaber, member of the Mosireen Independent Media Collective in Cairo, declared in a statement released Tuesday, "What has to be understood is that the enormity of the issue is not just about the foreign Al Jazeera journalists, or even journalists in general, but that the scope and scale of politically motivated imprisonment in Egypt right now is astonishing."

In a statement released Monday, the Committee to Protect Journalists slammed the verdict as "Egypt's Shame," declaring, "The trial was almost farcical, and among the evidence admitted were family vacation photos and footage of news reports from other networks on unrelated subjects."

"To have sentenced them defies logic, sense, and any semblance of justice," declared Al Jazeera English managing director Al Anstey in a press statement issued Monday.

Al-Sisi is refusing to pardon the incarcerated journalists despite a plea from the United States--a key backer of the Egyptian government.

The White House on Monday condemned the verdicts in a statement that reads, "We call on the Egyptian government to pardon these individuals or commute their sentences so they can be released immediately, and grant clemency for all politically motivated sentences - starting with the other defendants in this trial."

The statement said nothing about whether the verdict will affect U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's pledge, issued this weekend, to redouble support and renew military aid to the Egyptian government.

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