Latvian journalist sentenced to seven years jail in Egypt

  • 2014-06-23
  • From wire reports, RIGA

Peter Greste has been given seven years for aiding a ’terrorist organisation’

An Egyptian court has sentenced Latvian- Australian journalist Peter Greste and two colleagues to seven years in prison for aiding a 'terrorist organization.'

The three, who all denied the charge of working with the now banned Muslim Brotherhood, include Canadian-Egyptian national Mohamed Fahmy, Cairo bureau chief of Al Jazeera English, Reuters reports.

The third defendant, Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, was given an extra three years for possessing a single bullet at the hearing attended by Western diplomats, some of whose governments summoned Egypt's ambassadors over the case.

The men have been held at Egypt's notorious Tora Prison for six months, with the case becoming a rallying point for rights groups and news organizations around the world.

They were detained in late December and charged with helping "a terrorist group" - a reference to the Muslim brotherhood - by broadcasting lies that harmed national security and supplying money, equipment and information to a group of Egyptians.

The Brotherhood was banned and declared a terrorist group after the army deposed elected Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in July following mass protests against his rule. The Brotherhood says it is a peaceful organization.

Al Jazeera, whose Qatari owners back the Brotherhood and have been at odds with Egypt's leadership since he was ousted, said the ruling defied "logic, sense and any semblance of justice". "There is only one sensible outcome now. For the verdict to be overturned, and justice to be recognized by Egypt," Al Jazeera English managing director Al Anstey said in a statement.

The ruling came a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met newly elected Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo and raised the issue of the journalists. On Monday, Kerry said he called Egypt's foreign minister to register his "serious displeasure" over the "chilling and draconian verdict".

The courtroom quickly descended into chaos as the verdict was read out. Shaken and near tears, Greste's brother Michael said: "This is terribly devastating. I am stunned, dumbstruck. I've no other words."

The three men had looked upbeat as they entered the courtroom in handcuffs, waving at relatives who had earlier told journalists they expected them to be freed for lack of evidence.

One Dutch woman and two Britons were sentenced to 10 years in absentia on the same charges of aiding a "terrorist group". Judicial sources told Reuters the verdicts could be appealed before a higher court and a pardon was still possible. Egypt's public prosecutor last week ordered the release of another Al Jazeera journalist, Abdullah al-Shamy, on health grounds after he spent more than 130 days on hunger strike.

The trial has triggered international outrage amid fears of growing media restrictions in Egypt. The Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed dismay in reaction to news about the verdict, with Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics vowing that Latvia - together with the European Union and Australia, will continue the fight for Greste's release despite this setback.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs deplores the convicting verdict by the Egyptian court against a dual citizen of Latvia and Australia, journalist Peter Greste," a statement from the Foreign Ministry of Latvia read.

"The Foreign Ministry is of the opinion that all the circumstances concerning Greste's detention have not been considered in the proceedings, including the lack of direct evidence. The Foreign Ministry voices hope that the Egyptian Court of Appeal will thoroughly review the sentence imposed by the court of first instance and believes that the new President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi will promote the exercise of freedom of speech in country."

The video below shows Peter Greste's Latvian parents reacting to the verdict.