Egypt president refuses pardon for jailed Al Jazeera journalists
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi today said he will not interfere in court rulings, rebuffing calls from the US and other Western governments that he pardon or commute the sentences of three Al-Jazeera journalists handed heavy prison terms a day earlier. The verdict of seven years in prison against the journalists brought a landslide of international condemnation.
Rights groups described their 5-month trial as a sham, with no evidence presented to back the terrorism related charges against them, saying the three were being punished simply for their reporting on protests by backers of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
The White House said the ruling ‘flouts the most basic standards of media freedom’ and was a ‘blow to democratic progress.’
It called on el-Sissi to intervene to bring about the immediate release of the three -- Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohammed. Australia and other governments have also urged el-Sissi to do so for the three journalists, whose families have said they will appeal. Appeals could take months, and the three are likely to remain in prison during the process. In a televised address to graduating military cadets, el-Sissi said, ‘We will not interfere in court verdicts’ -- repeating the phrase twice in his speech to drive home the point. He said he spoke to the justice minister on Monday and ‘told him one word: We will not interfere in judicial matters because the Egyptian judiciary is an independent and exalted judiciary.’
‘If we desire (strong) state institutions, we must respect court rulings and not comment on them even if others don’t understand these rulings,’ he said.
Under the constitution, the president has the power to issue a pardon or commute the sentences.
The journalists’ arrest last December was part of the broad crackdown against Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood after el-Sissi -- in his former post of army chief -- removed Morsi last summer. The journalists’ trial was further politicised by the Egyptian government’s deep enmity with the Gulf nation Qatar, which was a strong ally of Morsi’s Brotherhood and owns the Al-Jazeera network.