Egypt court hands Al-Jazeera reporters three years in jail
Egypt court hands Al-Jazeera reporters three years in jail
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.
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.
Turkish court keeps US pastor in jail; Trump calls on Erdogan to act
- Turkish court ordered an American pastor held for almost two years on terror charges to remain in prison
- Brunson could be released as the prosecution witnesses finish testifying
ALIAGA, Turkey: A Turkish court decided on Wednesday to keep an American pastor in jail, dashing hopes that he could be released during his trial on terrorism and spying charges, a case that has deepened a rift with NATO ally Washington.
Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was indicted on charges of helping the group that Ankara blames for a failed 2016 coup against President Tayyip Erdogan, as well as supporting outlawed PKK Kurdish militants.
Brunson, who denies the charges, faces up to 35 years in jail if found guilty.
“It is really hard to stay in jail and be separated from my wife and children,” Brunson, wearing a black suit and a white shirt, told the court in Turkish.
“There is no concrete evidence against me. The disciples of Jesus suffered in his name, now it is my turn. I am an innocent man on all these charges. I reject them. I know why I am here. I am here to suffer in Jesus’s name.”
US President Donald Trump late on Wednesday said in a tweet that Erdogan “should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father,” saying that Brunson has “been held hostage far too long.”
The US Senate passed a bill last month including a measure that prohibits Turkey from buying F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets because of Brunson’s imprisonment and Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense system.
The US envoy to Turkey said he was “disappointed” by the ruling of the court in the Aegean province of Izmir, where Brunson had been living.
“Our government is deeply concerned about his status and the status of other American citizens and Turkish local employees of the US diplomatic mission who have been detained under state of emergency rules,” Charge d’Affaires Philip Kosnett told reporters outside the courtroom.
“We have great respect for both Turkey’s traditional role as a haven for people of faiths and Turkey’s legal traditions,” he said. “We believe this case is out of step with these traditions.”
Erdogan has previously linked Brunson’s fate to that of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Muslim cleric who Turkey accuses of masterminding the failed coup. Gulen denies any involvement in the coup, in which at least 250 people were killed.
The spokesman of Turkey’s ruling AK Party, Mahir Unal, said that just as Washington had responded repeatedly to Ankara’s requests for Gulen’s extradition by saying it was a matter for the US courts, so Brunson’s fate was a judicial matter.
Brunson was pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church, serving a small Protestant congregation in Turkey’s third-largest city, south of the Aegean town of Aliaga where he is now on trial.
His lawyer Ismail Cem Halavurt had raised hopes that Brunson could be released as the prosecution witnesses finish testifying.
But Halavurt said on Wednesday the prosecution has added the testimony of two new anonymous witnesses to the case and that the court would reconvene on Oct. 12 to hear them and view new evidence.
Turkey’s lira weakened against the dollar immediately after the ruling, reflecting investor worries about tensions with the United States.
Brunson’s trial is one of several legal cases that have raised tensions between Washington and Ankara. A US judge sentenced a Turkish bank executive in May to 32 months in prison for helping Iran evade US sanctions, while two locally employed US consulate staff in Turkey have been detained.
The two NATO allies are also at odds over US policy in Syria, where Washington’s ally in the fight against Islamic State is a Kurdish militia that Turkey says is an extension of the PKK, which has waged a three-decade insurgency in southeast Turkey.
In a statement late on Wednesday, four Republican US senators called for the immediate release of Brunson and other US citizens being held in Turkey, warning of legislative reprisals otherwise.
“We encourage the Administration to use all the tools at their disposal to ensure the release of these innocent people before Congress is forced to press for even stricter legislative measures that will be difficult to unwind,” Senators Thom Tillis, Jeanne Shaheen, James Lankford, and Lindsey Graham said.