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U.N.”Deeply Concerned” Over Journalists’ Sentences in Egypt

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 23 2014 (IPS) - United Nations officials on Monday voiced their concerns over the verdicts and sentences of three Al Jazeera journalists and 11 others who were tried in absentia in Egypt, and called on the country to review the handling of these cases.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was  “deeply concerned” by the death sentences of 183 people and the heavy sentencing of journalists in Egypt, his spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters Monday.

“Proceedings that clearly appear not to meet basic fair trial standards, particularly those resulting in the imposition of the death penalty, are likely to undermine prospects for long-term stability,” Ban was quoted as saying.

An Egyptian court sentenced two Al Jazeera journalists – Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy – to seven years of imprisonment and Baher Mohamed to ten years on charges of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and spreading false information, the news network said Monday.

The three reporters have been detained for more than 170 days and have rejected the charges, it added.

The court rulings left U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay “shocked and alarmed,” her office said in a statement, adding that these verdicts, together with the confirmation of the death penalty for 183 Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters, added to a string of prosecutions that have been “rife with procedural irregularities and in breach of international human rights law.”

“Harassment, detention and prosecution of national and international journalists, including bloggers, as well as violent attacks by unidentified assailants, have become commonplace,” she said.

“It is not a crime to carry a camera, or to try to report various points of views about events.”

Pillay called on the Egyptian authorities to release all journalists who have been detained for doing their job. “Media employees trying to carry out their work in Egypt are now confronted by an extremely difficult and dangerous environment,” she said. “They should be protected not prosecuted.”

The three journalists’ verdicts have drawn attention from activist groups. Human Rights Watch said prosecutors could not provide credible evidence of criminal wrongdoing, and urged the Egyptian government to drop charges and free the journalists.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 65 journalists have been detained in Egypt since last July with most of them having been released. However, 14 journalists are still imprisoned.

“CPJ has repeatedly called on the Egyptian government and newly elected President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi to do all they can to see that all journalists being held in Egypt, including the three Al-Jazeera staff members jailed since December, are set free,” the watchdog group said.

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