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Secretary Kerry: Prison sentences for Al Jazeera reporters 'deeply disturbing set-back' for Egypt

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry responded to Monday's conviction of three Al Jazzera journalists in Cairo by challenging Egypt's new president to respect "the essential role of civil society, a free press, and the rule of law," and to "consider all available remedies, including pardons."
By JC Finley Follow @JC_Finley Contact the Author   |   June 23, 2014 at 1:35 PM

WASHINGTON, June 23 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Monday's conviction of three Al Jazeera journalists "a deeply disturbing set-back to Egypt's transition."

On Monday, Australian correspondent Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed were sentenced to seven years in prison. They were detained in December, accused of using Al Jazeera English as a mouthpiece for the Muslim Brotherhood -- considered a terrorist group by the government -- and their broadcast location at the Marriott hotel as a meeting venue for Muslim Brotherhood members.

Their trial "lacked many fundamental norms of due process," Kerry underlined, noting that the court's ruling was in contradiction to assertions made a day earlier by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry during meetings in Cairo "that they aspire to see their country advance."

"Today's verdicts fly in the face of the essential role of civil society, a free press, and the real rule of law. I spoke with Foreign Minister Shoukry again today to make very clear our deep concerns about these convictions and sentences.

"Yesterday, President al-Sisi and I frankly discussed these issues and his objectives at the start of his term as President. I call on him to make clear, publicly, his government's intention to observe Egypt's commitment to the essential role of civil society, a free press, and the rule of law. The Egyptian government should review all of the political sentences and verdicts pronounced during the last few years and consider all available remedies, including pardons."

The case of the three journalists was portrayed around the world as an attack on press freedom, even prompting a social media campaign with the hash-tag #FreeAJStaff. But within Egypt, many feel the Arabic section of the al-Jazeera network was biased against the Egyptian government.

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