Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Tuesday that he "will not interfere in judicial rulings," following an Egyptian court's verdict on Monday that found three Al-Jazeera journalists guilty of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood — deemed a terrorist group after the takedown of former President Mohamed Morsi. The court sentenced two of the journalists to seven years in prison and one to 10 years.
"We must respect judicial rulings and not criticize them even if others do not understand this," the president said in a televised speech.
Secretary of State John Kerry responded to Monday’s decision by asking the country’s foreign minister to register his “serious displeasure” with the “chilling and draconian verdict.” But his mild condemnation came barely a day after he met with Sisi in Cairo at which point the newly elected military leader gave him "a very strong sense of his commitment [to] a re-evaluation of human rights legislation [and] a re-evaluation of the judicial process." Kerry then reassured Sisi that the US would "get on track" with the its $1.3 billion aid package — part of a (on average) $2 billion aid package Egypt has received from the US every year since the country signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 — and promised to send Apache helicopters for use against militants in the restless Sinai peninsula that borders Israel.
"The Apaches will come, and they will come very, very soon," Kerry said.
Egypt's military junta has shown increasing disregard for basic human rights, first targeting the Muslim Brotherhood and sentencing hundreds to death for their support of democratically elected and later deposed President Morsi, then implementing a "protest law" that bans public assembly without police permission, and going after journalists and activists — effectively snuffing out dissenting voices "across the political spectrum."
Monday's verdict has been slammed internationallly, with the United Nations warning of "a risk that miscarriage of justice is becoming the norm in Egypt." The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has said that "the trial was almost farcical," and "the verdict had nothing to do with the law. It's a transparently politicized result, in which the [Qatar-based] Al-Jazeera journalists have become pawns in conflict with Qatar over its support for the Muslim Brotherhood."
According to the court, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohammed are guilty of fabricating reports, in support of the Brotherhood, with the aim of destabilizing the country’s security.
While Australian journalist Greste and Canadian-Egyptian journalist Fahmy were handed seven year terms, Egyptian Baher Mohammed was given 10 years, for “possession of ammunition — a reference to a spent shell he picked up from protests as a souvenir,” the Associated Press reported.
At the culmination of a five-month hearing, Amnesty International called the trial a “sham” and the verdict “a dark day for media freedom in Egypt.”