Peter Greste's parents 'shattered' over Egypt court sentence
Australian correspondent among 3 Al-Jazeera English journalists sentenced to 7 years
The elderly parents of Australian reporter Peter Greste, one of three Al-Jazeera English journalists sentenced to seven years in prison by an Egyptian court, told reporters the judgments were "a slap in the face and a kick in the groin to Australia as well as all fair-minded people around the world."
An Egyptian court on Monday convicted Greste as well as Egyptian-Canadian acting Cairo bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed on terrorism-related charges. The case has prompted an outcry from human rights groups.
Mohamed also received an extra three years in prison on separate charges.
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"This is a very dark time, not only for our family, but for journalism generally," Greste's father, Juris, said in a prepared statement with his wife, Lois.
"We are devastated, shocked and dismayed at this finding. We’re not usually a family of superlatives, but I have to say this morning, my vocabulary fails to convey just how shattered we are."
Lois Greste said it was still an option to travel to Cairo to see their son.
Asked how she believed Peter was faring in prison, she broke down and was consoled by her husband.
"I know Peter is very, very strong," she said. "This will be a hard time, but I know he'll get through it."
The parents said they are now in the unenviable position of having no choice but to keep pressing the Egyptian authorities for their son's freedom.
"We have to fight for Peter, and we have to fight for his other two colleagues," Juris said. "For the sake of media freedom. It's as simple as that."
Fahmy's lawyer Shaaban Saeed told CBC's Derek Stoffel on Monday that the guilty verdict will be appealed.
"I swear they will pay for this," Fahmy shouted angrily from the defendants' cage after the sentences were announced.
"They just ruined a family," said Fahmy's brother Adel, who was attending the session. He said they would appeal the verdict but added that he had little faith in the system. "Everything is corrupt," he said.
As Adel left the court, he could be heard saying, "This is a harsh verdict."
Fahmy had been in high spirits in recent days, expecting that he would be released because of the lack of evidence against him, his fiancée Marwa Magid told CBC News from Cairo. He became quite angry on hearing the verdict.
She said his shoulder was broken two days before his arrest, and he has had no treatment for it in the past six months.
He was able to get an MRI scan two days ago. The doctor found that he has a disability in the shoulder and requires surgery.
The judge also handed 10-year sentences to two British journalists and a Dutch journalist who were not in Egypt and being tried in absentia.
Trial had 'shortcomings'
Two defendants among 14 others on trial in the case were acquitted, including the son of Mohammed el-Beltagy, a senior figure in the Muslim Brotherhood.
Speaking with CBC host Heather Hiscox later, Adel Fahmy said, "It's corrupt judicial system, and this whole case has been fabricated to serve the agenda of Egypt."
"The foreign affairs minister and the Canadian Embassy have done a great job. I have to admit that. We give credit where it is due. But I don't know. There should have been a higher-up pressure. There should have been more urgent pressure. Maybe they reacted too late … and the problem is now that this is the result, and I don't know how it can be resolved or reversed."
Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed were arrested in December in a raid on the Cairo hotel room they were using as an office, as part of a sweeping crackdown on Islamist supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.
They were accused of supporting Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which the authorities have declared a terrorist organization.
They also face charges of fabricating footage to undermine Egypt's national security and make it appear the country was facing civil war. The prosecution has offered little evidence to back up the charges against them.
The three and their supporters have said they were simply doing their jobs as journalists, covering the wave of protests led by the Brotherhood against the military-backed government installed after Morsi was ousted on July 3 by then army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is now the president.
The police crackdown on the protests has killed hundreds and put thousands more in prison.
Canada's ambassador to Egypt, David Drake, told CBC News he was "very disappointed" and he "does not understand" the verdict.
"The defence counsel did an excellent job in clearly establishing that there is no incriminating evidence with regard to the charges, and that there were multiple procedural shortcomings regarding the trial itself."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, told reporters in Baghdad on Monday he was also distressed by the court decision, and communicated so to his counterpart in Egypt.
"When I heard about that verdict today, I was so concerned about it — frankly disappointed, in it — that I immediately picked up the telephone and I talked to the foreign minister of Egypt, and I registered our serious displeasure of this kind of verdict under the circumstances of where we find ourselves today."
Kerry said on Sunday that he discussed the Al-Jazeera trial with el-Sissi. Kerry said el-Sissi promised a re-evaluation of rights restrictive legislation and a re-evaluation of the judicial process. He didn't elaborate.
El-Sissi has the power to commute the sentence or pardon the three — but only after appeals are finished, a process that could take months. The three would remain in prison throughout the appeals, unless they win a separate "suspension of verdict" ruling.
The other defendants were mainly students, arrested separately, accused of providing the Al-Jazeera journalists with footage along with a variety of other charges, including belonging to the Brotherhood.
'Defies logic, sense'
The managing director of Qatar-based Al-Jazeera English, Al Anstey, said in a statement that "not a shred of evidence was found to support the extraordinary and false charges against them."
"To have detained them for 177 days is an outrage. To have sentenced them defies logic, sense, and any semblance of justice," he said.
Fahmy, who covered stories for the New York Times and CNN before working for Al-Jazeera, was the most outspoken over the course of his trial.
His family, who moved to Canada in 1991, also railed against the prosecution, saying it was clear that the charges against the journalists were "ridiculous."
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has met with Fahmy's family and told them he discussed Fahmy's case with his Egyptian counterpart. Canadian officials had warned the family, however, that the journalist's dual citizenship placed limits on how much they could do.
An appeal can grant a retrial, but only if flaws in the court proceedings are found.
With files from CBC's Derek Stoffel, The Associated Press