Egypt rebukes British envoy over reaction to Al Jazeera retrial verdict


Rebecca Hawkes

| 31 August 2015

The Egyptian Government has accused Britain's Ambassador to Egypt of "unacceptable interference" after he criticised a court's decision to jail three Al Jazeera journalists for three years.

The Cairo court sentenced Egyptian Baher Mohamed and Canadian Mohamed Fahmy to three years in prison while Australian Peter Greste was sentenced in absentia, after being deported in January.

Speaking in Arabic to domestic media after the verdict on 29 August, British Ambassador John Casson said the sentences could "undermine confidence in the basis of Egypt's stability, both in Egypt and abroad".

Writing on the British Embassy's Facebook page Casson later added: "Britain actively supports stability in Egypt. But the question today is whether this will be a fragile and temporary stability on the basis of suspending freedoms of media and expression and depriving individuals of their rights in the Egyptian constitution".

On Sunday, Ahmed Abu Zeid, spokesperson for Egypt's Foreign Ministry, tweeted: "Egypt rejects any foreign criticism of judicial verdicts, considers it unacceptable intrusion in rulings of Egyptian judiciary."

Foreign criticism over this case and its verdict has been plentiful.

A spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights, Prince Zeid bin Raad, said: "We are very disturbed by these three sentences and the extra pressure it creates on journalists in Egypt who are just trying to do their jobs."

The European Union called the verdict "a setback for freedom of expression in Egypt", while Lynn Yelich, Canada's Minister of State for Foreign and Consular Affairs, said: "This decision severely undermines confidence in the rule of law in Egypt". She again called for the immediate release of Canadian citizen Mohamed Fahmy.

A "deeply disappointed" US has urged the government of Egypt "to take all available measures to redress this verdict, which undermines the very freedom of expression necessary for stability and development".

Mohamed, Fahmy and Greste were all found guilty of aiding a terrorist organisation, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was outlawed in Egypt after the army overthrew former president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

The three journalists and their employer, the Qatar-based TV network Al Jazeera, reject all accusations.

"We will do everything we can to fight the verdict to clear our names. We are not terrorists. We did not collude with any organisation. We did not broadcast any false news," Peter Greste said from Australia after the sentence was handed down.

Fahmy and Mohamed, who were on bail ahead of the verdict, have now been returned to Tora prison in Cairo, according to Egyptian media reports. They spent 410 days in detention before the retrial, time which will be viewed as time served, the Cairo court said on Saturday.

Greste was jailed for 400 days prior to his deportation.

Al Jazeera plans to lodge an appeal with Cairo's Court of Cassation.