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Al-Jazeera Reporter Calls For Sisi Pardon After Shock Jail Sentence

  • RFE/RL

Al-Jazeera reporter Peter Greste has called on Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi to pardon him and his two colleagues, each sentenced to three years in prison in a ruling that has sparked international condemnation.

Speaking at a news conference in Sydney on August 30, Greste -- an Australian citizen -- said it was now "up to President Sisi to do what he said he would do from the outset, and that is pardon us if we were ever convicted."

He dismissed the verdict as "wrong" and "politically motivated," adding that the eyes of the world were now on Egypt.

Greste was detained in December 2013 along with Canadian national Mohammed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Muhammad while working for the Doha-based network.

The Cairo court issued the verdict on August 29 in the long-running trial criticized worldwide by press freedom advocates and human rights activists.

The three were initially sentenced to prison before Egypt's highest court ordered a retrial on charges of allegedly being part of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the authorities have declared a terrorist organization, and airing falsified footage intended to damage national security.

Egypt deported Greste in February.

Shortly after the ruling was announced, he said the three would continue to fight to clear their names.

"We're not terrorists, we did not collude with any organization, we did not broadcast any false news, and so at every level both in terms of the liberty of my colleagues, in terms of my name, the names of all of us, we have to keep fighting," he said.

Fahmy and Muhammad, who had been released on bail, were present at the sentencing and taken away by police after the hearing.

Lawyers for the three journalists are expected to appeal the decision.

Fahmy's lawyer, Amal Clooney, said the verdict sent "a very dangerous message in Egypt."

"It sends the message that journalists can be locked up for simply doing their job, for telling the truth and reporting the news, and it sends a dangerous message that there are judges in Egypt who will allow their courts to become instruments of political repression and propaganda," she said.

Al-Jazeera English acting Director-General Mostefa Souag said the verdict "defies logic and common sense."

The United States said it was "deeply disappointed" by the ruling.

The U.S. State Department released a statement on August 29 urging the Egyptian government "to take all available measures to redress this verdict, which undermines the very freedom of expression necessary for stability and development."

Canadian Minister of State for Consular Affairs Lynne Yelich said the court's decision "severely undermines confidence in the rule of law in Egypt."

On August 30, Egypt's Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador to the country, John Casson, over his criticism of the verdict.

Casson had said that the stability of Egypt should not be built on a "shaky foundation which deprives people of their rights and undermines the freedom of the press and freedom of expression."

Amnesty International also condemned the sentences, which it described as the "death knell for freedom of expression in Egypt."

"The fact that two of these journalists are now facing time in jail following two grossly unfair trials makes a mockery of justice in Egypt," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Rights advocates say the journalists' arrest is part of a wider crackdown on free speech since the military overthrew President Muhammad Morsi, a senior Muslim Brotherhood figure, in mid-2013 following mass unrest.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters