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U.N. human rights head 'shocked' by Al Jazeera journalists' sentences in Egypt

Monday's conviction and sentencing of three Al Jazeera journalists by an Egyptian court "shocked and alarmed" United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who is calling on Egypt to review its judicial system.
By JC Finley   |   June 24, 2014 at 12:57 PM   |   Comments

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GENEVA, Switzerland, June 24 (UPI) -- Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, expressed concern about the status of Egypt's judicial system in light of Monday's conviction and sentencing of three Al Jazeera journalists.

On Monday, Australian correspondent Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed were sentenced to seven years in prison, plus an additional three years for Mohamed on separate charges. 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.

"The charges levelled against the journalists, which include harming national unity and social peace, spreading false reports, and membership of a 'terrorist organization,' are far too broad and vague, and therefore reinforce the belief that the real target is freedom of expression...

"I believe these mass trials and death penalty convictions are obscene, and a complete travesty of justice."

Pillay, a former international judge, urged the Egyptian authorities to review its judicial system and recent cases.

She noted that Egypt is a ratifying member of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states, "Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice."

"It is the State's obligation to ensure that the right to freedom of expression is respected, and that journalists are able to report on diverse views and issues surrounding the current situation in Egypt," she said Monday, cautioning that "Crushing media reporting will only hinder Egypt's efforts to come through this period of social and political turmoil."

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