MEPs criticise sentencing of journalists in Egypt

Twenty Egyptian and foreign journalists have been given sentences of between seven and 10 years on charges of aiding terrorists and endangering national security in Egypt.

By Kayleigh Rose Lewis

23 Jun 2014

Among them are former BBC correspondent Peter Greste, an Australian, and Dutch journalist Rena Netje, who was sentenced in absence.

ALDE deputy Marietje Schaake, slammed the verdict, saying, "This is an unfair judgement and again demonstrates the fact that there is no press freedom or freedom of expression in Egypt.

"The current regime is further restricting the rights of the Egyptian people, while those rights have been ensured in the new constitution.

"This is an unfair judgement and again demonstrates the fact that there is no press freedom or freedom of expression in Egypt"-Marietje Schaake

"The regime does not allow any dissent and every form of criticism is met with brute force.

"The fact that the regime is now convicting journalists for being members of a terrorist cell shows that the country has a long way to go to becoming a mature democracy," she complained.

"The EU must take a strong position against this affront to fundamental freedoms," she said, adding, "It is good that a number of European ambassadors were present at the verdict, but we need more."

Schaake continued, "Only if we act in unity can we have an impact on the ground. In the past, the EU has reacted too mildly or not at all in response to human rights violations in Egypt,".

"The statements the EU makes are also sometimes contradictory. The message must be crystal clear if we want to retain our credibility," she criticised

"It must be clear that human rights are at the top of the European agenda. We need to strive for more freedom and democracy for the Egyptian population.

"To do that, we need a thorough and decisive strategy. [Foreign policy chief Catherine] Ashton must take the lead to formulate such a strategy, together with the European member states," concluded the Dutch deputy.

Scottish MEP Alyn Smith also condemned the verdict, saying, "I'm appalled at this illogical, oppressive and flagrant breach of law.

"I'm appalled at this illogical, oppressive and flagrant breach of law"-Alyn Smith

"Where the trial process itself was bad enough, like many observers I was expecting a far milder sentence, taking due account of the time already served in jail.

"Article 70 of the latest Egyptian constitution guarantees press freedom, this sentence is in clear breach of it," he explained.

He went on, "The EU is a major partner to Egypt. We provide considerable financial aid and our trade and tourism links are considerable.

"When I was last in Cairo it was clear that they wanted closer links with the EU, we must of course remain engaged, but we cannot allow this to stand," he urged, adding, "I have today written to the high representative and will raise this in Strasbourg.

"The Egyptian courts should review this judgement and free the journalists now," he finished.

Dutch member Judith Sargentini was also critical of the ruling, saying, "Just a few weeks back commissioner Ashton congratulated General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi with his election as president and offered the services of the European Union in creating a democratic Egypt.

"All talks with the Egyptians - formal and informal - should be put on hold"-Judith Sargentini

"Now that we see Egyptian and foreign journalists, including Dutch and British, being sentenced to a long time jail for simply doing their job, I conclude that democracy is further away than ever.

"All talks with the Egyptians - formal and informal - should be put on hold and the EU should refrain from sending election observation mission to the parliamentary elections," she urged, "We have to stop legitimising what is going on in Egypt, and face the truth: this is Mubarak 2.0."

Finally, UK MEP Charles Tannock, said, "Jailing reporters for simply doing their job is not the mark of an open and democratic country observing the rule of law.

"It is disappointing to see Egypt, which badly needs its friends abroad, thus unnecessarily tarnishing its global reputation," rued the ECR member.

"The fact that the authorities have pressed ahead with the prosecution and convictions is a cause for dismay.

"Greater regard must be paid by the new government for basic human rights, for freedom of the media and for international opinion," he stressed.

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