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Daily News Analysis

Egyptian court imposes stiff sentences on Al Jazeera journalists

Crescent International

By sentencing three Al Jazeera journalists to long prison sentences, the Egyptian regime of General (retired) Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has served notice that it will not allow any independent reporting even by foreign media outlets. The Egyptian media was already serving as propaganda mouthpiece for the regime; now it wants foreign media outlets to toe the line as well or else.


2014-06-26, 08:27 DST

Journalism, like soldiering is a risky profession. The difference is that while a soldier is armed with a gun and can defend himself, the journalist only has a pen, or now his/her laptop to report on what is occurring. A laptop or camera is no protection against the brute force of the state as three Al-Jazeera journalists have discovered.

After spending nearly a year in an Egyptian prison, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed were found “guilty” of supporting a “terrorist organization” (meaning the Muslim Brotherhood) by a Cairo court on June 23. Greste and Fahmy were sentenced to seven years in prison, while Baher Mohamed was sentenced to an additional three years for possession of “ammunition”.

The ammunition Mohamed was in “possession” of was a spent bullet casing he had found on the ground during a protest last year. In the Egyptian security forces’ murderous rampage against innocent civilians, live ammunition was used. Baher Mohamed’s crime was that he picked up the evidence.

The three al-Jazeera journalists were arrested last August when they reported the military’s brutal crackdown against unarmed peaceful supporters of the Ikhwan al-Muslimoon. Thousands of Ikhwan supporters, among them women and children were brutally massacred by the military and other security forces on August 14 and 16, 2013 following the illegal ouster of Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Mursi.

The outrageous sentences against the three journalists evoked strong condemnation from human rights organizations as well as the journalistic fraternity. They felt that the sentences were not only very long but that putting on trial journalists for doing nothing more than their job was a blow against honest reporting.

Two other Al Jazeera journalists, Sue Turton and Dominic Kane, were tried in absentia. They were sentenced to 10 years. The journalists’ only crime was to report what the military was doing: killing innocent people, instead of drum beating for the mass murderers. In Egypt, the only independence the media is allowed is to praise the thugs.

Egypt’s new pharaoh, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has said he will uphold the court verdict as if the court is independent of his thuggish policies. "We will not interfere in judicial rulings," Sisi said in a televised speech on June 24 at a military graduation ceremony.

"We must respect judicial rulings and not criticize them even if others do not understand this."

But the verdict was widely seen as being dictated by Sisi and his military colleagues that are ruthlessly suppressing any form of dissent as well as imposing draconian sentences on people caught on the wrong side of the thugs in uniform. The judiciary in Egypt is not independent. Its benches are full of people that were appointed to these positions not because of any legal competence but because they were henchmen of the regime of Hosni Mubarak, the former dictator. They were part of the old system and continue to remain in their posts because they have facilitated the re-imposition of the same old system on the people of Egypt.

Interestingly, the court’s verdict came a day after US secretary of state John Kerry met Sisi in Cairo and announced the resumption of hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid. Was the court’s decision coordinated with Kerry or the Egyptian regime simply thumbed its nose at him and signaled it did not care what the US or anyone else thought?

While Kerry denounced the sentences as "chilling and draconian", one should not expect the US to suspend its largesse to the Egyptian military. That is for an altogether different purpose: to keep Egypt out of the struggle against the Zionist regime in Occupied Palestine. The US and its allies want to protect their illegitimate child in Occupied Palestine; they do not care how many innocent people are thrown in the dungeons or murdered in Egypt or any other Muslim country.

After all, the new military regime (even if it has donned the mask of civilian rule by going through a farcical election in May in which less than 10 percent of the people participated) has thrown more than 16,000 people in jail. Hundreds have been sentenced to death in mass trials in which even a pretense of legality was not observed.


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