Guilty Verdicts Claim 3 More Reporters, As Egyptian Courts Roll On
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
It's a case that's drawn international condemnation. Today, an Egyptian court sentenced two journalists to seven years in jail, and a third to 10 years. They all work for the Al Jazeera English news network and were convicted of being or aiding terrorists and tarnishing Egypt's image. No evidence of their alleged crimes were present - was presented in court. NPR's Leila Fadel has more.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Arabic spoken).
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Slamming his gavel, the judge dashed the hopes of three imprisoned journalists - Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed. Mohamed got an extra three years for possession of a spent bullet casing - a memento of his reporting.
WAFA BASSIOUNI: (Arabic spoken).
FADEL: Fahmy's mother, Wafa Bassiouni, burst into tears while speaking on the phone. He got seven years, she sobbed, for what? Why? This is shameful. Her son, Adel, bowed his head in grief.
ADEL BASSIOUNI: It's a crock trial, and today was proven. We had some hope in the judicial system but we were sadly mistaken.
FADEL: And from the prosecution cage, Fahmy yelled that the judiciary would pay for what it had done to him as police dragged him out of the chaotic courtroom. Greste was silent, only pumping his fist in the air. His brother, Andrew, spoke to reporters after the decision was made.
ANDREW GRESTE: All throughout the whole process the Egyptian authorities have assured us that the trial was going to be fair and their justice system is something that is independent. So I guess it was a surprise. Definitely, it was a surprise.
FADEL: The family says they will continue to fight for his freedom. Now they can appeal. The journalists are accused of being or aiding terrorists - a reference to the banned Muslim brotherhood - and accused of harming national unity. They've been imprisoned for nearly six months, but in the 13 sessions of their trial, the evidence only consisted of things like videos of press conferences - normal tools of journalism like notebooks and laptop computers and even family photos. A Dutch journalist and two British journalists were also sentenced to 10 years in absentia. In a statement from the prosecutor's office it called the verdict a deterrent, but there was immediate condemnation by Australia, Canada, the UK and other countries. In Baghdad, Secretary of State John Kerry denounced the verdict.
SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: It's a chilling and Draconian sentence. It simply cannot stand if Egypt is going to be able to move forward in the way that Egypt needs to move forward.
FADEL: But his words come a day after he made assurances to the Egyptian state that $650 million in U.S. aid will be restored soon. Many are hoping, now, that the new president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, will pardon the men to show that Egypt is in fact on a path to democracy. But Egyptians are being tried and sentenced by the thousands. Just two days ago, 183 death sentences were upheld by an Egyptian court over the killing of one police officer. The defendants were given no opportunity to mount a defense. On Saturday, two dozen people were arrested and held for protesting a law that basically bans protesting. Mohamed Lotfy is observing the Al Jazeera trial for Amnesty International.
MOHAMED LOTFY: This is a clear message to press and media that you are not free to relay information as you wish.
FADEL: In a separate case, Monday, another Egyptian journalist was reportedly sentenced to five years in prison for reporting on religious violence against Coptic Christians in Egypt. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.