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UN criticizes Egypt on conviction and imprisonment of journalists

In London, England BBC journalists and staff protest the Egyptian court conviction of three al-Jazeera journalists on Monday, June 23, 2014.
In London, England BBC journalists and staff protest the Egyptian court conviction of three al-Jazeera journalists on Monday, June 23, 2014.
Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images

On Monday in two separate statements United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay condemned Egypt’s sentencing of three journalists and eleven other defendents, calling these actions and other actions targeted against government protesters a concerning breach of international law.

Of the 14 defendants, Reuters reported that three journalists, Peter Greste of Australia, Cairo bureau chief of Al Jazeera English Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed were tried in person and accused working with the Muslim Brotherhood and given prison sentences of 7 to ten years. The eleven other defendants though not in attendance were also tried and convicted by the Egyptian court.

The journalists continue to deny the accusations and the Egyptian prosecution failed to submit relevant evidence to prove their case that the journalists were guilty of conducting terrorist activities.

In addition, Secretary-General Ban and High Commissioner Pillay also condemned the recent mass trial and conviction of 183 Muslin Brotherhood members and supporters resulting in death sentences for all.

“Proceedings that clearly appear not to meet basic fair trial standards, particularly those resulting in the imposition of the death penalty, are likely to undermine prospects for long-term stability,” Ban noted.

Signifying the importance of the universal right of peaceful assembly, Ban added Egypt’s anti-protest laws “Could lead to serious breaches of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and needed to be brought in conformity with Egypt’s international human rights obligations.”

Concerning the decision on the journalists, Pillay said, “Harassment, detention and prosecution of national and international journalists, including bloggers, as well as violent attacks by unidentified assailants, have become commonplace.

Media employees trying to carry out their work in Egypt are now confronted by an extremely difficult and dangerous environment. They should be protected not prosecuted,” Pillay added.

Pillay also remarked in her statement that the vague charges against the journalists and protesters are targeted against “freedom of expression,” adding that mass trials resulting in death sentences are “obscene, and a complete travesty of justice.”

As noted on the U.S. Department of State website, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry responded to the verdict on Monday,

“Today's conviction and chilling, draconian sentences by the Cairo Criminal Court of three Al Jazeera journalists and fifteen others in a trial that lacked many fundamental norms of due process, is a deeply disturbing set-back to Egypt's transition. Injustices like these simply cannot stand if Egypt is to move forward in the way that President al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Shoukry told me just yesterday that they aspire to see their country advance."