Three al-Jazeera journalists, including Australian Peter Greste were sentenced to jail last night in the Cairo Criminal Court for conspiring to falsify news to defame Egypt. Amnesty International described the sentencing as vindictive and politically motivated in a case where the prosecution had produced no evidence to back its claim or to support a conviction.
The al-Jazeera network is owned and funded by the oil-rich country of Qatar, which pumped billions of dollars into the Egyptian economy during the 11-month ruling term of the Muslim Brotherhood. Since the Muslim Brotherhood was labelled a terrorist organisation late last year by the new government, anyone associated in the past or present with the group has been targeted. This is thought to be the push behind the conviction of the three journalists and on Saturday, 183 Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters were handed the death penalty in a mass trial.
Governments around the world have condemned the sentences, with The United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, US Secretary of State John Kerry, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Frans Timmermans and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop all releasing statements on the matter and several summoning the Egyptian Ambassador for meetings.
The New York Times summed up the situation sensationally overnight by holding the planned back-page of its newspapers and replacing it with a full blank page apart from the words at the bottom which read “This is what happens when you silence journalists. Show your support. Journalism is not a crime. #FreeAJStaff”.
Peter Greste and the other al-Jazeera journalists are guilty of nothing more than doing their jobs and the injustice of their sentences has been heard world-wide, with millions of tweets being sent in support of the journalists on the social media platform Twitter over the past 14 hours.
As a nation, we have a very poor record in defending the freedom of our citizens on the worldstage, with the Balibo Five investigation into war crimes committed against a group of Australian television journalists in East Timor in 1975 still gathering evidence six years after its launch.
The Egyptian Ambassador to Australia will be meeting with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade today. Our words must be firm and our actions must be swift in securing the freedom of Peter Greste from one of Egypt’s most notorious prisons.
Will this verdict affect any future decision you have of visiting Egypt? Should Tony Abbott get involved in the process? Did Australia do enough for Peter Greste during the trial?