Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Egyptian-Canadian sentenced to 7 years

Al-Jazeera journalist convicted of terrorism charge

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CAIRO, Egypt -- Three Al-Jazeera journalists, including an Egyptian-Canadian, were sentenced to seven years in prison each on terrorism-related charges Monday in a verdict that stunned their families and was quickly denounced as a blow to freedom of expression.

Australia, Britain and the United States strongly condemned the sentencing of Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, Australian correspondent Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, with the White House calling for pardons or sentence commutations for the three journalists.

Ottawa reacted several hours after the verdicts were announced in a Cairo courtroom, with a junior minister responsible for consular affairs saying the government was "very disappointed" with the outcome of the trial.

Fahmy, who was Al-Jazeera English's acting Cairo bureau chief, was visibly shaken after the verdict.

"I swear they will pay for this," he shouted angrily from the defendants' cage.

The verdicts came after a five-month trial that Amnesty International described as a "sham," calling Monday's rulings "a dark day for media freedom in Egypt."

'I swear they will pay for this'

-- Mohamed Fahmy, Al-Jazeera English's acting Cairo bureau chief

The three, who have been detained since December, contend they are being prosecuted simply for doing their jobs as journalists, covering Islamist protests against the ouster last year of president Mohammed Morsi. Three other foreign journalists, two Britons and a Dutch citizen, were sentenced to 10 years in absentia.

Media groups have said the trial is part of a fight between the government and the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network, which authorities accuse of bias toward the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi. The network denies any bias.

Prosecutors charged them with supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been declared a terrorist group, and with fabricating footage to undermine Egypt's national security and make it appear the country was facing civil war. But the prosecution presented little evidence in the trial.

"They just ruined a family," said Fahmy's brother Adel, who was attending the session. His mother and fiancée broke down in tears. "Who did he kill" to get this sentence? Fahmy's mother, Wafa Bassiouni shouted.

Fahmy's brother said they would appeal the verdict but added he had little faith in the system. "Everything is corrupt," he said.

Fahmy -- whose family moved to Canada in 1991 -- lived in Montreal and Vancouver for years before eventually moving abroad for work, which included covering stories for the New York Times and CNN.

His family has previously praised the Canadian government, saying it had been working diplomatic channels to help win his release.

After Monday's verdict, however, Fahmy's other brother, Sherif, said Ottawa should take a clear and public stance.

"Call the Egyptian president... call the Egyptian ambassador in Canada, like Britain did today," he said. "Do something that proves that you actually care for Mohamed, that is what I am asking them to do."

He also sent a tweet Monday morning that pointed the finger at Ottawa. "(at)pmharper I hold you responsible for leaving my brother to rotten in Egyptian prison. Was a call or a public statement that difficult?"

Canadian Ambassador David Drake, who attended the session, said he was disappointed at the verdict.

"We are digesting this... We have to put our faith in the judicial system. We don't understand this particular verdict."

In Canada, Lynne Yelich, Minister of State (Foreign Affairs and Consular), echoed Drake's comments, calling on the Egyptian government to protect the rights of all individuals "including journalists."

"Canada is very disappointed with the verdict in the case of Mohamed Fahmy and is concerned that the judicial process that led to his verdict is inconsistent with Egypt's democratic aspirations," said the statement.

Egypt's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it "strongly rejects any comment by any foreign party shedding doubt on the independence of Egyptian judiciary and its fair rulings."

The Egyptian prosecutors' office said the sentences were a "deterrent."

The three journalists received sentences of seven years each in a maximum security prison. Mohamed, the team's producer, received an extra three years for possession of ammunition. Al-Jazeera has said that charge was rooted in a spent shell found in his possession -- a souvenir he'd picked up from protests.

Egypt's president has the power to commute the sentence or pardon the three journalists -- but only after appeals are finished, a process that could take months.

 

-- The Associated Press with files from CP

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 24, 2014 A11

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