The family of Peter Greste is considering its options for an appeal following the Australian journalist’s seven-year sentence in Egypt, a move the Australian government concedes is the best hope for his release.
While US Ambassador to Australia John Berry said the US would use “every tool in its toolbox…all of the art of diplomacy” to fight the verdict, according to The Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott warned against “megaphone diplomacy” in a report in The Australian, saying it would not help Greste’s case.
An appeal looms as the best chance for Greste’s release. Under Egypt’s constitution, president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has the right to issue a pardon or commute a sentence – a right both Australia and the US have urged the president to use to free Greste and two other Al Jazeera journalists. However, Mr Sisi is on record as saying he will not interfere in judicial affairs.
International media and human rights groups have condemned the guilty verdict handed down to Greste and his colleagues, who have been convicted of spreading false information to defame Egypt.
Greste and Egyptian-Canadian Cairo bureau chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy were each sentenced to seven years jail, while Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed was sentenced to 10 years.
The decision, reportedly reached after the prosecution produced no evidence, has been described as an assault on international press freedom and a bitter political gesture motivated by tensions between Egypt and Qatar, the country which funds Al Jazeera, according to a report by The Sydney Morning Herald Middle East correspondent Ruth Pollard.
The verdict “defies logic, sense, and any semblance of justice,” Al Jazeera English managing director Al Anstey said in a press release on the broadcaster’s website.
“Today three colleagues and friends were sentenced, and will continue behind bars for doing a brilliant job of being great journalists,” he wrote. “Guilty of covering stories with great skill and integrity. Guilty of defending people’s right to know what is going on in their world.
“Peter, Mohamed, and Baher and six of our other colleagues were sentenced despite the fact that not a shred of evidence was found to support the extraordinary and false charges against them.
“At no point during the long, drawn-out trial did the absurd allegations stand up to scrutiny. There were many moments during the hearings where in any other court of law, the trial would be thrown out. There were numerous irregularities in addition to the lack of evidence to stand up the ill-conceived allegations.”
He said the only sensible outcome now was for the verdict to be overturned and vowed to continue to support the three until they were free and united with their families.
The Newspaper Works has joined government, journalist and citizen voices around the world to condemn the verdict.
“We deplore the sentences of imprisonment against these journalists,” The Newspaper Works CEO Mark Hollands said.
“All actions by any government designed to restrict press freedom and the public’s right to know should and must be fought.”
Mr Hollands said the Australian newspaper industry welcomed all efforts by the Australian Government to secure the release of Mr Greste.
“Around the world, journalists are subjected to threats of violence, jail sentences and are even killed for the pursuit of truth,” he said. “The jailing of Mr Greste and his colleagues demonstrates the dangers and sacrifices journalists are called upon to make.”
Fahmy and Mohamed were accused of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group which backed former president Mohamed Morsi and which has been designated a terrorist organisation since the Egyptian military took over government in December last year.
Qatar is viewed as supportive of the Brotherhood according to Pollard’s report, contributing millions in aid to Egypt during Morsi’s 11 month term. The three journalists are among 20 on a list of accused Brotherhood associates released in February, and as many as 40,000 people who have been arrested in Egypt since the military takeover.
The three were accused of using unlicensed equipment to broadcast misinformation to defame and destabilise Egypt, after their makeshift offices at the Marriott Hotel in Cairo were raided on December 29. They have spent the intervening six months in a three by four metre cell, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the government was “bitterly disappointed with the outcome”.
“The Australian government is shocked at the verdict in the Peter Greste case. We are deeply dismayed by the fact that a sentence has been imposed and we are appalled by the severity of it.”
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