Egypt defends judicial system at UN meeting

Wednesday 25 June 2014 22.39
Peter Greste (L) and his two colleagues were each jailed for seven years
Peter Greste (L) and his two colleagues were each jailed for seven years

Egypt has defended its judicial system at the United Nations amid a global outcry over the jailing of three al-Jazeera journalists.

Its deputy UN ambassador said Egypt respects the role of the media and does not consider journalism a crime.

Diplomats from more than 17 countries, including eight members of the UN Security Council, attended the meeting organized by the UN Correspondents Association to show solidarity with the journalists.

Australian Peter Greste; Canadian-Egyptian national Mohamed Fahmy, Cairo bureau chief of al-Jazeera English; and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed were jailed on Monday for seven years.

All three denied the charge of working with the now banned Muslim Brotherhood.

The United States has called for the "chilling, draconian sentences" to be reversed.

"The Egyptian judicial system is very well-known for providing full guarantees for the defendant," Egypt's deputy UN Ambassador, Osama Abdelkhalek Mahmoud, told the meeting.

"I have confidence that the due procedures will be followed and justice will be done in such cases and in all other cases."

A social media campaign pushing for the release of the journalists uses the catchphrase "Journalism is not a crime."

"We fully subscribe to this wording you have used -journalism is not a crime," he said. "We have 1,200 foreign correspondents in Egypt working, none of them were harassed or annoyed ... We highly respect the role played by journalists."

Deputy Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Robert Mahoney, said some 67 journalists had been detained in Egypt since the government of former Egyptian president Mohammed Mursi was toppled last July.

"A lot have been let out, but today as we speak there are 14 journalists in jail in Egypt, including the three al-Jazeera journalists," he said.

"That makes Egypt ... the biggest jailer of journalists in the Arab world, more than Syria."

Newly elected Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said yesterday that he would not interfere with judicial verdicts.

Former East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta told the meeting at the United Nations that he believed the situation could be resolved through creative diplomacy.

"Sometimes leaders like President Sisi of Egypt need some way out. They have given a message, their message is heard, now it's time to find a solution satisfactory to everybody," he said.

Keywords: egypt, al-jazeera