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By Moustafa Bayoumi
The sentencing on June 23 of three Al Jazeera journalists, each to at least seven years in prison, by an Egyptian court is a travesty of justice. It provides further proof that Egypt is continuing its rush to dictatorship with Washington’s support.
The case against the three journalists for allegedly spreading lies that harmed state security and for joining a terrorist organization was laughable from the outset, and the trial was a bad joke.
The specific evidence presented against the men — Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed — consisted of prosecutors screening images from Mr. Geste’s family vacation, a news conference in Kenya that Mr. Geste had covered, and horses grazing in a pasture in Upper Egypt.
Baher Mohamed was sentenced to three additional years in prison because he had in his possession a spent bullet casing he had found on the ground during a protest. That inert souvenir earned him the charge of possession of a deadly weapon.
Adding to this circus of a trial, Judge Mohamed Nagy Shehata wore aviator sunglasses throughout the proceedings. (Egypt’s President Sisi is often photographed wearing the same style of sunglasses.) The whole pantomime played like a parody of a trial under a dictatorship.
It was in keeping with the mass death sentences handed down to members of the now banned Muslim Brotherhood, the massacre of more than a thousand mostly unarmed civilians last year, and the jailing of more than 14,000 political prisoners, including key figures from the 2011 Egyptian revolution, such as Ahmed Maher, Mahienour el-Masry, and Alaa Abd El Fattah.
And what has been the American response to these mounting injustices in Egypt? A resumption of aid (which had been temporarily frozen because of the government’s horrible human rights record). While Secretary of State John Kerry denounced the verdict against the journalists as “a chilling and draconian sentence,” his actions hardly match his words.
Meeting with Sisi less than 24 hours before the verdict in this case came down, Kerry stated that Sisi had given him a “very strong sense of his commitment” to “a reevaluation of human rights legislation” and “a reevaluation of the judicial process.” And days earlier, the Obama administration delivered more than $570 million of military and security assistance to Egypt. It plans to send ten Apache attack helicopters soon.
The United States cannot honestly state that it defends human rights and due process around the world while offering this Egyptian government massive amounts of military hardware and standing aside as innocent journalists rot in jail.