“These rulings are not based on law, they are based on politics. The Al-Jazeera verdict is political, so political pressure will come to bear on appeal.”
<*R><BI>— Gamal Eid, a lawyer and the executive director
of the Arabic Network for Human Rights
The appalling seven-year prison sentence handed to a Canadian journalist working for Al-Jazeera English and his two colleagues by an Egyptian court on Monday should be loudly condemned by the Canadian federal government.
But the Canadian government, which has loudly proclaimed its support for human rights and democratic reform around the world in past years, has been silent.
As the Toronto Star reported this week, the sentences were handed down to Mohamed Fahmy, an experienced journalist with dual Egyptian-Canadian citizenship who previously worked for CNN and The New York Times; Peter Greste, an award-winning Australian correspondent who also worked for the BBC; and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer who previously worked for the Asahi Shimbun in Japan.
The three men had been arrested in December and incarcerated for nearly six months, held for 23 hours a day inside their shared cell. They had been accused by prosecutors of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood — an organization that has been designated a terrorist organization by the current Egyptian authorities — of spreading “false news” and of smearing the country’s reputation in order to bring down the military-backed Egyptian government.
The Egyptian government, led by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi who took over after former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was deposed by the military, has vilified the Al-Jazeera network as Muslim Brotherhood supporters — and is thus seen as in league with terrorists.
Following Morsi’s removal from elected office, the new Egyptian government has waged a brutal crackdown on his supporters. Last week, 180 of them were sentenced to death on what the Globe and Mail called “trumped-up charges ranging from murder to sabotage.” And on the same day that the three journalists were sentenced to prison, 24 more Morsi supporters were sentenced to life in prison.
As Gamal Eid said in the quote above, these are political trials conducted by a scared and paranoid Egyptian government looking to strike fear into the hearts of their enemies. And apparently free and functioning media are once again on Egypt’s enemies list, much like it was under former president Hosni Mubarak.
International condemnation and pressure from democratic governments like Canada and the United States is the only thing that can force the courtroom to overturn the verdict and sentence on appeal. In spite of the vicious crackdown, the precedent has already been set.
Last December, 14 women and girls sentenced to 11 years in prison after a peaceful protest were set free a month later after a court reduced their term to a one-year suspended sentence — this following an international outcry.
And yet, in the case of Mohamed Fahmy, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told reporters yesterday that Canada was pursuing all legal avenues, and that “bullhorn diplomacy” won’t secure Fahmy’s release.
How does one pursue legal avenues in what has essentially become a kangaroo court that acts on the whims of a vindictive government? And how can Baird square this muted response to the court sentencing with the following press statement he made in April before travelling to Egypt that month:
“We stand with the Egyptian people in their efforts to build a stable, inclusive, prosperous and democratic Egypt based on respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.”
The right to a fair trial and the freedom of the press are two of the basic tenants of democracy and are essential rights in all countries that respect the rule of law. The fact that Baird has failed to defend either of these principles that are under attack by puppet Egyptian courts is reprehensible.