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Obama calls for release of Al Jazeera journalists

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US President says Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed “should be released”

US President Barack Obama speaks at the South Lawn of the White House on March 20, 2014  (AFP/File, Mandel Ngan)

US President Barack Obama speaks at the South Lawn of the White House on March 20, 2014
(AFP/File, Mandel Ngan)

United States President Barack Obama has called for the release of three journalists convicted of terrorism related charges in Egypt.

“The specific issue of the Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt, we’ve been clear both publicly and privately that they should be released”, said Obama in a press conference following the US-Africa Leaders Summit.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb represented Egypt at the summit and met with Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to Washington.

Al Jazeera English journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed were each sentenced to seven years in prison on 23 June on charges of spreading false news and joining and aiding an illegal organisation, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation Egypt has listed as a terrorist group. Mohamed received an extra three years for being in possession of an empty bullet casing.

In July Egypt’s judiciary issued a response to international criticism of the verdict, stressing the trio were afforded the right to a free trial and their “rights and freedoms were never violated or infringed upon at any time”.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi said that he would “not interfere in judicial affairs” adding: “We must respect judicial rulings and refrain from commenting on them”.

The convicted journalists have insisted on their innocence throughout the trial and have criticised the verdict due to the lack of evidence against them. The prosecution presented footage of Sky News Arabia tourism reports, a popular song from the artist Gotye, images of Greste’s parents on holiday and reports by Greste for Al Jazeera from his time working in East Africa.

Kerry raised the issue of the Al Jazeera journalists with Al-Sisi when they met in June the day before the handing down of the guilty verdict. Kerry told reporters that Al-Sisi gave him a “strong sense of his commitment” to review human rights legislation and look at Egypt’s judicial procedures.

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