Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has said that he will not interfere with judicial verdicts, following an international outcry over lengthy prison sentences given to three Al Jazeera journalists on Monday.
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Sisi said Egypt’s authorities would respect the independence of the judiciary.
“We will not interfere in judicial rulings,” Sisi said in a televised speech on Tuesday at a military graduation ceremony.
“We must respect judicial rulings and not criticise them even if others do not understand this.”
The guilty verdicts were announced on Monday by a Cairo judge against Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed.
Greste and Fahmy were sentenced to seven years in prison, while Baher Mohamed was sentenced to an additional three years for possession of ammunition. Mohamed was in possession of a spent bullet casing he had found on the ground during a protest.
Other Al Jazeera journalists who were tried in absentia, including Sue Turton and Dominic Kane, were sentenced to 10 years.
The journalists – an Australian, a Canadian-Egyptian and an Egyptian – were convicted of aiding a “terrorist organisation”, a reference to the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
The sentences were widely criticised by rights groups and Western governments, with the US secretary of state John Kerry calling them “chilling and draconian” and the British foreign minister, William Hague, saying he was “appalled”.
The UN warned of “a risk that miscarriage of justice is becoming the norm in Egypt”.
Egypt’s foreign ministry said on Monday it rejected “any comment from a foreign party that casts doubt on the independence of the Egyptian judiciary and the justice of its verdicts.”
Sisi was elected last month, less than a year after removing Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Brotherhood, following mass protests against his rule.