Sissi Rebuffs Global Calls 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)
US. Secretary of State John Kerry reviews his notes before a meeting with General Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt, on November 3, 2013. (Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

 In Tuesday speech, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi refuses clemency saying he cannot interfere with judiciary

CAIRO — Egypt’s president Tuesday said the authorities will not interfere with the judiciary, as protests were staged worldwide in solidarity with Al Jazeera journalists, including an Australian, whose jailing has sparked outrage.

The United States is leading calls for President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi to pardon the journalists convicted of aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood movement and “spreading false news”.

A Cairo court sentenced award-winning Australian journalist Peter Greste and Egyptian-Canadian Mohammad Fadel Fahmy to seven years in jail on Monday, while producer Baher Mohammad was handed 10 years.

Eleven of 20 defendants who stood trial were giving 10-year sentences in absentia, including one Dutch journalist and two British journalists. Those sentenced can appeal before the court of cassation.

Al Sissi, the ex-army chief who led Mursi’s ouster before being elected president in May, said the authorities “will not interfere in judicial matters”.

“We have to respect judiciary rulings, and not comment them even if others don’t understand them,” he said in a televised speech.

Al Sissi’s comments came a day after the White House urged the Egyptian authorities to pardon the journalists.

But a presidency official told AFP Sisi cannot legally do so until a final court ruling after any appeals.

Monday’s ruling sparked an international outcry, with US Secretary of State John Kerry denouncing “a chilling and draconian sentence”.

Greste’s shattered parents vowed to keep fighting for press freedom as Australia urged Al Sissi to issue a pardon.

“This is a very dark time not only for our family, but for journalism generally,” his father Juris said in Brisbane. “The campaign for media freedom and free speech must never end. Journalism is not a crime.”

Al Jazeera, whose journalists had been working in Cairo without official accreditation, condemned the verdict as “unjust”.

Journalists around the world demonstrated on Tuesday in solidarity with those jailed, including staff at the London headquarters of the BBC, Greste’s former employer, and reporters at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong.

“The verdict is unjust, the case is unfounded,” BBC news director James Harding told the gathering, before a one-minute silent protest was observed exactly 24 hours after the sentencing.

France on Tuesday joined Britain and the Netherlands in summoning the Egyptian ambassadors, after UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said she was “shocked and alarmed” by the ruling.

Amnesty International also spoke of a “dark day for media freedom in Egypt”, and Human Rights Watch said the verdict showed “how Egypt’s judges have been caught up in the anti-Muslim Brotherhood hysteria fostered by President Al Sissi”.

But reactions remained limited to verbal objections, as no Western capital can afford severing ties with Egypt, the first Arab country to have signed a peace treaty with Israel and a strategic US ally in the Middle East.

A day before the ruling, US officials announced that $572 million (Dh2.1 billion) in aid, frozen since October, had been released to Egypt after a green light from Congress.–AFP

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