CAIRO- Egypt was under mounting pressure Tuesday to pardon three Al-Jazeera journalists, including Australia’s award-winning Peter Greste, jailed in a ruling that sparked global outrage and fears of a growing media crackdown.
Greste and Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy each got seven-year terms in a Cairo court, while Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed received two sentences of seven and three years.
Eleven defendants tried in absentia, including one Dutch journalist and two Britons, were handed 10-year jail terms, also on charges of aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood and “spreading false news”.
Australia said it was “appalled” at the verdict and US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of “a chilling and draconian sentence”, while the United States led calls for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to free the journalists.
“We call on the Egyptian government to pardon these individuals or commute their sentences so that they can be released immediately, and grant clemency for all politically motivated sentences,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the case was clearly politically motivated and that she would petition Sisi to intervene.
“The new Egyptian government has an opportunity to prove to the world that it is on the path to democracy, that it does believe in freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which are the pillars of democracy,” she said.