In a decision that has caused an international outcry, Al Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed have been found guilty of operating without a press license and broadcasting material harmful to Egypt by an Egyptian court. Peter Greste told the Sydney Morning Herald that he was “shocked, outraged, [and] angry” at the verdict, which came with a three-year jail sentence.
Greste and his two colleagues had covered the protests in Tahrir Square, Cairo, that resulted in the downfall of longtime Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, as well as the fall of the newly elected Muslim Brotherhood-backed government in a military coup. The military regime put harsh laws in place to penalize any supporters of the Brotherhood, proscribing it as a terrorist organization. It was these laws, applied retroactively, that resulted in the arrest of the three journalists in 2013 while working for the Al Jazeera network. Peter Greste, a Peabody award-winning Australian journalist, spent 400 days in jail before being deported and re-tried in absentia. Greste’s colleagues, Fahmy and Mohamed, remain in jail.
Both sides of the Australian parliament have come out to condemn the decision, and a worldwide outcry over the treatment of Greste and his colleagues has been reignited. Humanitarian groups and Western leaders are unanimous in seeing the decision as an attack on free speech and free journalism. “Journalism is not a crime,” said Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten. Amal Clooney has also come out against the decision, warning Egypt of the impact on its international reputation. The U.S. State Department’s reaction was to express disappointment over the decision, as well as calling for the journalists’ release. Australian authorities plan to appeal to Egyptian President Al-Sisi personally, who, according to ABC News, has said publicly that he wished the trial had never occurred.
Al Jazeera claims that the trial was heavily politicized, not only because of the Muslim Brotherhood connection, but also because of Egypt’s rocky relationship with the government of Qatar, owners of the Al Jazeera network. Greste himself has voiced concerns and some bitterness about Al Jazeera’s Arabic networks and their separation from Al Jazeera English. Greste has claimed that he was unaware of Al Jazeera Arabic’s affiliations with the Brotherhood, and that these may have compromised his position in Egypt.
The future looks bleak for all three journalists. Greste is now a convicted terrorist and cannot travel to any country that has extradition with Egypt, a crippling ban for a journalist whose life’s work has been in exactly these areas. Greste is most worried about his colleague Baher, who has three small children and is unlikely ever to attract the kind of influence that secured Greste’s own release.
Peter Greste wrote many letters and articles while in jail, penning them on toilet paper and smuggling them out during visits, earning him a somewhat heroic status among journalists worldwide. Greste has vowed to continue fighting against the convictions.
[Picture via Getty Images]