Kerry condemns prison sentences for Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt

Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday called the conviction of three Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt “a deeply disturbing setback” to the country’s transition to democracy.

Kerry blasted the trial of the reporters as "lacking fundamental norms of due process," and he called the sentences, which ranged from seven to 10 years, "chilling" and "draconian."

ADVERTISEMENT
"The long term success of Egypt and its people depends on the protection of universal human rights, and a real commitment to embracing the aspirations of the Egyptians for a responsive government," Kerry said.

"Egyptian society is stronger and sustainable when all of its citizens have a say and a stake in its success,” he added. “Today's verdicts fly in the face of the essential role of civil society, a free press and the real rule of law."

Kerry said he called Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Monday to express concern, and asked Egyptian leadership to consider pardoning the convicted journalists.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest echoed Kerry, saying the U.S. "strongly condemns" the convictions. 

Earnest said prosecuting the reporters for contradicting the Egyptian government's narrative "flouts the most basic standards of media freedom."

The Al Jazeera journalists were convicted of manipulating news footage to tarnish the image of the Egyptian state. 

The network was seen as largely sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, the party of ousted President Mohamed Morsi. The Egyptian army removed Morsi from power last summer amid mass protests over his efforts to change the country's constitution. 

The convictions came one day after Kerry visited Egypt and suggested the U.S. was ready to restart its $1.3 billion in aid to Cairo.

Foreign ministers in Australia and the U.K. have also condemned the conviction, and the network has protested their reporters’ detention.

“There is no justification whatsoever in the detention of our three colleagues for even one minute," Al Jazeera English managing director Al Anstey said in a statement. "To have detained them for 177 days is an outrage. To have sentenced them defies logic, sense and any semblance of justice.”

Kerry called on Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to "make clear, publicly, his government’s intention to observe Egypt’s commitment to the essential role of civil society, a free press, and the rule of law."

"The Egyptian government should review all of the political sentences and verdicts pronounced during the last few years and consider all available remedies, including pardons," Kerry said.

— This story was updated at 12:54 p.m.