SNP Member of the European Parliament Alyn Smith has today reacted with alarm to the decision this afternoon in Cairo to jail three Al Jazeera journalists.
Two Al Jazeera English journalists have been sentenced to seven years in jail and one to 10 years by an Egyptian court on charges including aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and reporting false news. The guilty verdicts were announced today against Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed. Greste and Fahmy were sentenced to seven years in prison, while Baher Mohamed was sentenced to an additional three years for possession of ammunition. Mohamed was in possession of a spent bullet casing he had found on the ground during a protest.
Smith has written to Cathy Ashton as head of the EU's External Action Service calling for sanctions to be actively explored in order to pressure the Egyptian regime to review and overturn the verdict. Article 70 of the Egyptian Constitution guarantees freedom of the press, and this bizarre show trial has throughout not proven any credible case against the three. Smith is himself a former lawyer.
"I'm appalled at this illogical, oppressive and flagrant breach of law. Where the trial process itself was bad enough, like many observers I was expecting a far milder sentence, taking due account of the time already served in jail. Article 70 of the latest Egyptian constitution guarantees press freedom; this sentence is in clear breach of it. Seven other journalists tried in absentia were also sentenced to ten years. This is a serious crackdown on press freedom.
"The EU is a major partner to Egypt. We provide considerable humanitarian financial aid and our trade and tourism links are considerable. When I was last in Cairo it was clear that they wanted closer links with the EU, and whilst we must remain engaged, we cannot allow this to stand. I have today written to the High Representative and will raise this in Strasbourg.
"The Egyptian courts should review this judgement and free the three journalists now. Unless we see real action on this it is quite clear that anyone considering visiting Egypt should change their plans."
Article 70 of the Egyptian Constitution is reproduced below:
Freedom of the press, printing and paper, visual, audio and electronic publication is guaranteed. Every Egyptian - whether being natural or legal, public or private person – shall have the right to own and issue newspapers and establish visual, audio and digital media outlets.
Newspapers may be issued once notification is given as regulated by Law. The Law shall regulate the procedures of establishing and owning visual and radio broadcast stations and online newspapers.
A PDF copy of Alyn's letter to Baroness Ashton is available below: