Egypt court hands Al-Jazeera reporters three years in jail

Updated 29 August 2015
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Egypt court hands Al-Jazeera reporters three years in jail

CAIRO: An Egyptian court sentenced three Al-Jazeera reporters to three years in prison on Saturday, in a shock ruling following global demands for their acquittal.
Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed were in court for the verdict. Australian journalist Peter Greste was tried in absentia after his deportation early this year.
Several co-defendants, accused of working with Al-Jazeera, received similar sentences.
Qatar-based Al-Jazeera denounced the verdict against the trio, who were accused of broadcasting false news, as a “deliberate attack on press freedom.”
Their retrial was ordered after an appeals court overturned an initial sentence of seven years in prison, saying the prosecution had presented scant evidence against them.
Fahmy’s lawyer, London-based Amal Clooney, told reporters after the verdict she would press the Egyptian presidency for a pardon.
“It’s a dangerous precedent in Egypt that journalists can be locked up simply for reporting the news and courts can be used as political tools,” she said.
Relatives and supporters were dismayed by the verdict.
“I’m shocked. Terribly shocked. We waited for an acquittal and then found ourselves stuck again in the case. This is illogical,” Fahmy’s brother Adel said.
Greste described the jail terms as “devastating.”
“We did nothing wrong. The prosecution presented no evidence that we did anything wrong and so for us to be convicted as terrorists on no evidence at all is frankly outrageous,” he said.
The journalists were arrested in December 2013, months after the military overthrew Islamist president Muhammad Mursi and launched a deadly crackdown on his supporters.
At the time, Qatar, which owns Al-Jazeera, was supportive of Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Judge Hassan Farid said Saturday that it was clear to the court that the reporters “were not journalists” and had broadcast “false news” while operating in Egypt without a permit.
Mohamed received an additional six-month sentence for possession of a bullet he had picked up covering protest violence.
Fahmy and Mohamed, who had been released on bail in February at the start of the retrial, were taken into custody.
The trial has become an embarrassment for President Abdel Fattah El-Sissi, the then army chief who ousted Mursi from the presidency in 2013.
The sentences “are an affront to justice that sound the death knell for freedom of expression in Egypt,” Amnesty International said in a statement.
Washington and the United Nations had called for the journalists’ release, and their trial was seen as damaging to the country’s international standing.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said at least 18 reporters are imprisoned in Egypt.

Pardon mulled
Sissi has said he wished that the Al-Jazeera journalists had not been put on trial. He may pardon them if he chooses.
Fahmy, who gave up his Egyptian citizenship in hopes of being deported as Greste was in February, had said he looked forward to finally seeing justice and winning an acquittal on the eve of the trial.
“From day one it’s a politicized trial. If justice is to be served we should be acquitted as impartial journalists,” said Fahmy, who formerly worked for CNN, on the eve of the session.
Fahmy and Greste were arrested at a Cairo hotel where they had a makeshift studio in December 2013, six months after Mursi’s overthrow. Mohamed was picked up at his home.
The three were accused of having supported the Brotherhood in their coverage. However, during the trial, the prosecution failed to find fault in their reporting.
“The technical committee that was appointed by the judge gave the court a report stating that none of our reports were fabricated,” Fahmy said.
Al-Jazeera’s Arabic channel had been supportive of Mursi and Islamists, but Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed worked for its English-language news channel.
Fahmy says they discovered that the broadcaster was unlicensed during their trial, when a prosecutor presented evidence to that effect.
“We were shocked when the prosecutor gave this document; we didn’t know this,” Fahmy said.


Israel warns Syrians away from frontier as Assad closes in

Updated 48 min 42 sec ago
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Israel warns Syrians away from frontier as Assad closes in

  • The Syrians who approached the fence were 200 meters away, when an Israeli soldier told them to leave
  • The crowd, which included women and children, then walked back slowly toward the refugee encampment

GOLAN HEIGHTS: Dozens of Syrians approached the Israeli frontier on the Golan Heights on Tuesday in an apparent attempt to seek help or sanctuary from a Russian-backed Syrian army offensive, before turning back after a warning from Israeli forces.
Tens of thousands of Syrians have arrived near the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in the past month, fleeing a rapidly advancing offensive which has defeated rebels across a swathe of territory near Jordan and Israel.
“Go back before something bad happens. If you want us to be able to help you, go back,” an Israeli army officer on the Israeli side of a frontier fence told the crowd in Arabic through a megaphone. “Get a move on.”
The offensive has triggered the single biggest displacement of the war, with several hundred thousand people uprooted. Both Israel and Jordan have said they will not allow Syrians to cross into their territory.
Israel, which seized the Golan in the 1967 Middle East War, has given humanitarian aid to refugees in encampments close to a 1974 Israeli-Syrian disengagement line. Many of the displaced are sheltering within the disengagement zone that is monitored by a UN force.
The Syrians who approached the frontier fence stopped some 200 meters (yards) away, before an Israeli soldier told them to leave.
“You are on the border of the State of Israel. Go back, we don’t want to hurt you,” the soldier shouted in Arabic through a loudspeaker at the crowd, live Reuters TV footage showed.
The crowd, which included women and children, then walked back slowly toward the refugee encampment. Some stopped mid-way and waved white cloths in the direction of the Israeli frontier.
The Russian-backed offensive has advanced swiftly, unopposed by President Bashar Assad’s foreign adversaries. The United States, which once armed the southern rebels, told them not to expect it to intervene as the attack got underway last month.
A witness on the Syrian side of the Golan frontier said the sound of bombardment was drawing ever nearer. The United Nations said last week up to 160,000 Syrians had fled to Quneitra province, some in close proximity to the Golan area.

Government forces celebrate
Israel has threatened a harsh response to any attempt by Syrian forces to deploy in the disengagement zone, complicating the government offensive as it draws closer to the frontier.
Israel does not want its enemies Iran and Hezbollah, both allies of Assad, to move forces near its border.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking alongside US President Donald Trump on Monday, cited the need to restore the situation along the Golan borders to the state that prevailed before the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011.
At least 14 people, including five children and some women, were killed when Syrian government forces dropped a barrel bomb on the village of Ain Al-Tineh 10 km (6 miles) from the Golan frontier, according to UOSSM, a medical aid charity that operates in the area.
Ahmad Al-Dbis, UOSSM safety and security manager, said another 35 people had been wounded in the attack which he said had hit a school. The casualties had fled to the village from nearby parts of the southwest.
Syrian state TV broadcast from a hilltop captured from rebels on Monday and overlooking the Golan frontier. Government fighters waved rifles and held aloft pictures of Assad as they celebrated on camera from the location, Al-Haara hill.
“We will liberate all Syria,” said one of the soldiers.