Sisi refuses to pardon al-Jazeera journalists

Egyptian president ignores pleas from Obama and other leaders to release prisoners

The future of three al-Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt looks bleak after Egypt’s strongman president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi refused a pardon, ignoring pleas from Barack Obama to release them and other political prisoners.

“We will not interfere in judicial rulings,” Mr Sisi said yesterday. “We must respect judicial rulings and not criticise them even if others do not understand this.”

Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were jailed for between seven and 10 years on Monday for endangering Egypt's national security, alongside four students and activists. Two British al-Jazeera journalists and a Dutch freelancer were sentenced to a decade in jail in absentia – despite the prosecution, according to trial observers Amnesty International, failing "to produce a single shred of solid evidence".

Slight to US

Mr Sisi’s refusal to intervene comes just under a year after he ousted Mohamed Morsi in what was framed at the time as an attempt to preserve democracy. It was a further slight to US diplomacy, coming just hours after the White House demanded the journalists’ release, and two days after America’s top diplomat John Kerry reiterated that millions of dollars in suspended aid money to Egypt would be unfrozen.

“We call on the Egyptian government to pardon these individuals or commute their sentences so they can be released immediately, and grant clemency for all politically motivated sentences – starting with the other defendants in this trial,” the White House said. “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 and represents a blow to democratic progress in Egypt.”

While Mr Sisi would placate international critics with a pardon, inside Egypt he would gain little, with many applauding the convictions. Al-Jazeera has been portrayed as an enemy of the state because of the perception that its coverage favours the supporters of Morsi.

Egypt’s attack on free expression is part of a wider crackdown on dissent that has seen hundreds “disappeared”, and at least 16,000 arrested, according to the government’s own figures, with some estimates rising to 41,000.

– (Guardian service)