Khaled Desouki / AFP / Getty Images

World leaders, news outlets unite to condemn Al Jazeera sentences

White House, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon among those criticizing sentences in Egypt

Condemnation of the prison sentences handed down by Egypt on Al Jazeera journalists including Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed came in swiftly and strongly Monday from the likes of world leaders, news organizations and advocacy groups. 

The White House slammed the verdict by calling it a “a blow to democratic progress in Egypt.”

“The prosecution of journalists for reporting information that does not coincide with the government of Egypt’s narrative flouts the most basic standards of media freedom,” a statement from the U.S. administration read.

A blow to democratic progress in Egypt

White House Statement

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power took to Twitter to express her outrage at the development, saying that the convictions were a “chilling and outrageous attack on press freedom,” adding that the verdict “needs to be overturned.” 

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also added his voice to criticism of the jail sentences.

“The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by recent court decisions in Egypt, particularly the confirmation of death sentences for 183 people and the sentencing of journalists, including from Al Jazeera today, to lengthy jail terms,” a spokesperson said.

The outrage wasn’t limited to government officials and world leaders. News outlets around the globe united in solidarity for the imprisoned journalists. Al Anstey, Al Jazeera English's managing director, said the verdicts defied "logic, sense, and any semblance of justice" and other news organizations echoed those remarks.

The BBC’s Director of News, James Harding, called the verdict an "act of intimidation against all journalists."

Solidarity was also shown by Channel 4 News in the UK, which signed off on its newscasts by showing its news staff wearing black tape across their mouths and holding signs reading #FreeAJStaff. 

The Channel 4 news website also featured black tape across its page in protest of the verdicts.

Other Al Jazeera journalists, including Sue Turton, were tried in absentia and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Turton said Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt were trying to be as balanced and fair as all the other international media outlets operating in the country and that the sentences highlight what the Egyptian government is really trying to accomplish. 

“I think basically the Egyptian government is [trying] to shut up anybody that contradicts their narrative of Egypt," she said. "They’ve shut up the domestic media, they don’t say anything against the government any longer and now the international media has started to self-censor, they’ve become much more muted, much more quiet and they don’t go out and interview everybody on all sides of the story."

The Committee to Protect Journalists called the trial "almost farcical."

“Among the evidence admitted were family vacation photos and footage of news reports from other networks on unrelated subjects,” the group said. 

“With all due deference to the reputed independence of the Egyptian judiciary, today's verdict has nothing to the do with the law. It's a transparently politicized result, in which the Al Jazeera journalists have become pawns in a conflict with Qatar over its support for the Muslim Brotherhood,” it added. 

Amnesty International called the verdict "devastating," and described it as a "dark day for media freedom in Egypt." 

“The only reason these three men are in jail is because the Egyptian authorities don’t like what they have to say. They are prisoners of conscience and must be immediately and unconditionally released," said Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther.

Al Jazeera has always rejected the charges, which include aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and reporting false news, and maintains its journalists' innocence.

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