On Monday, an Egyptian court sentenced three journalists to prison terms for their supposed collaboration with the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood. The case has drawn a great deal of international anger, with critics aghast at the Egyptian government's crackdown on free speech and the very act of journalism in a trial many viewed as a farce.
The trio, Australian reporter Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian cameraman Baher Mahmoud, all worked for Al Jazeera English. Each received seven-year sentences; Mahmoud received three additional years for illegally possessing a bullet casing he had kept at home as a souvenir.
Greste's plight has attracted a lot of attention in Australia, despite the limited efforts by the government in Canberra to free him. Australian television cameras were rolling live when Greste's elderly parents, Juris and Lois, heard of the judge's sentence. Their shock and despair is heart-wrenching.
My colleague Erin Cunningham in Cairo writes about the backdrop to the verdict:
Al Jazeera’s Arabic and English sister channels emerged as the primary targets of Egypt’s crackdown on media since the military overthrew Islamist president and former Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi last summer. Supporters of Egypt’s government have accused both networks of acting as mouthpieces for the Brotherhood, which cultivated ties with Qatar during its brief time in power.
Just days before the journalists’ arrest last year, Egypt’s interim cabinet declared the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition group, a “terrorist organization.” But it has so far failed to provide evidence that the movement has been involved in a series of militant attacks.
“There is no justification whatsoever in the detention of our three colleagues for even one minute,” Al Anstey, managing director of Al Jazeera English, said in a statement Monday. “To have sentenced them defies logic, sense and any semblance of justice.”