Sydney (AFP) – Jailed Australian Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste has stated he was “outraged” at being sentenced to seven years by an Egyptian court, saying the case was about silencing critical voices.
“I am devastated and outraged” by the verdict, Greste said in a message conveyed to his brothers Mike and Andrew, who visited him in a Cairo prison a day after he was sentenced, according to a statement posted on the Free Peter Greste Facebook page Thursday.
Greste and his colleague, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, were both sentenced to the same term on Monday for aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood and “spreading false news”.
Their producer Baher Mohamed received two sentences — one for seven years and another for three years in a decision that sparked global outrage and fears of growing media restrictions in Egypt.
Eleven of 20 defendants who stood trial were given 10-year sentences in absentia, including one Dutch journalist and two British journalists.
“Throughout this trial, the prosecutor has consistently failed to present a single piece of concrete evidence to support the outrageous allegations against us,” Greste said, according to the Facebook statement.
“At the same time our lawyers have highlighted countless procedural errors, irregularities and abuses of due process that should have had the entire case thrown out of court many times over.”
In the message, the Australian former BBC reporter said he intended to consider all possible measures to overturn the conviction.
“The verdict confirms that our trial was never simply about the charges against us,” he said in the statement, as remembered by the brothers, who were not allowed writing materials in the prison.
“It has been an attempt to use the court to intimidate and silence critical voices in the media.
“That is why I know that our freedom, and more importantly the freedom of Egypt’s press, will never come without noisy, sustained pressure from individuals, human rights groups, governments and anyone who understand (sic) the fundamental importance of a free press to Egypt’s fledgling democracy.”
Australia and the United States are leading calls for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to pardon the journalists, although the new Egyptian leader said authorities will not interfere in the judiciary.
A presidency official in Cairo told AFP earlier this week that Sisi cannot legally do anything until a final court ruling after any appeals.
Since the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, the Egyptian authorities have been incensed by Al-Jazeera’s coverage of their deadly crackdown on his supporters.
They consider the pan-Arab satellite network as the voice of Qatar, and accuse Doha of backing Morsi’s Brotherhood, while the emirate openly denounces the repression of the Islamist supporters.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]