CAIRO, June 24 (UPI) -- Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Tuesday he will not intervene in the case of three Al Jazeera journalists who were each sentenced to at least seven years in prison.
al-Sisi seemed to be striking a defiant note in the face of international backlash against the Egyptian government's crackdown on media freedom and political dissent. An Egyptian court sentenced the three journalists to seven years in prison for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and spreading false news.
"We will not interfere in judicial verdicts because the Egyptian judiciary is independent," President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said in a televised address at the Military Academy in Cairo. "We should respect judicial verdicts and refrain from commenting on them, even if others didn't understand them."
Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian citizen of Egyptian descent, Peter Greste, an Australian journalist, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer, were handed the seven year sentences Monday for spreading false news stories in support of the Brotherhood. Baher Mohamed was given an additional three years for possession of ammunition.
Al-Sisi had reportedly made his position clear to the Egyptian justice minister Monday saying he stood by the judiciary, calling it "an independent and exalted judiciary."
Western nations and the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry criticized the Egyptian government's handling of the case asking that the journalists be released.
"Injustices like these simply cannot stand," Kerry said on Monday.
The White House also issued a statement saying that the case flouts all standards of freedom of the media and expression and that the verdict was a blow to Egypt's democratic process. The White House urged the Egyptian government to commute or pardon the journalists' sentences and set them free immediately.