In my address to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade last week I condemned the severe sentences imposed by a court in Cairo on 23 June on a number of Al Jazeera journalists for essentially doing no more than their job.
I share the widespread international concern over this verdict, which amounts to the criminalisation of the legitimate activities of a free press. This verdict represents an unacceptable restriction on freedom of expression and fundamentally undermines the credibility of the Egyptian judicial system.
There has been widespread international criticism of the verdict in this latest case, including by UNSG Ban, who warned that they could undermine Egypt’s stability. The UN Human Right Commissioner, Navi Pillay, expressed her shock and alarm at the verdicts which she pointed out were rife with procedural irregularities and in breach of international human rights law.
The issue was also discussed briefly at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg which I attended on 23 June. High Representative Ashton issued a statement after the meeting on behalf of all EU member states expressing the concern of the Council about the verdicts as well as about the death sentences imposed against more than 180 people following the recent well-publicised trial in Minya, Upper Egypt.
Egypt’s new constitution provides guarantees for the fundamental rights of its people which the Egyptian courts, regrettably, do not appear to have fully recognized in a number of recent verdicts. This is deeply worrying to those of us who wish to support Egypt and the Egyptian people in their ongoing difficult transition to democracy. It is a message which continues to be clearly communicated in our ongoing contacts with the Egyptian authorities, both here and through our Embassy in Cairo, most recently by senior officials in my Department at a meeting with the Egyptian Embassy earlier this week which also relayed my concerns over the recent Al Jazeera verdicts as well as the continued detention of Ibrahim Halawa.