Former director of news of Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel Ibrahim Helal, who is among three journalists sentenced to death in absentia in Egypt, has slammed the verdict against him as politically motivated.
Helal, who was among six in total given the death sentence on Saturday for allegedly leaking state secrets to Qatar, told Al Jazeera that there were inconsistencies in the case and the charges were part of a wider government campaign against press freedoms.
In a statement released on Saturday, the Al Jazeera Network said it received the ruling “with shock, agitation and condemnation”.
“The ruling is unprecedented in the history of journalism in the world; it represents a stab in the back of the profession and freedom of expression worldwide.
“The global and Arab journalistic organisation and the international community should not stand silent in the face of the manipulation by [the Egyptian government] of a well-established state institution, namely the judiciary, to intimidate free journalism and threaten journalists’ lives rather than enforcing justice.”
Al Jazeera rejects Egypt’s allegations that the network was collaborating with former president Mohamed Morsi’s elected government.
“The main inconsistency is that we as journalists are accused of cooperating with the Muslim Brotherhood and the government of Qatar … because the media regime, the media tycoons in Egypt are making propaganda every day that Qatar is a big supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood,” Helal said.
“It does not make any sense that the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar needed me to mediate between them.”
‘No right to appeal’
He also explained that he has no right to appeal the verdict, but expressed hope that he would be cleared of the charges in the future.
“As a person who was sentenced to death in absentia, I do not have any right to appeal or be represented legally … I do not believe that anything legal can help because the legal course has been hijacked politically for the last three years.
“But I have never been in any political organisation, I have never done any harm to my country, and I believe that will be cleared one day.”
Another Al Jazeera journalist, also tried in absentia, is Jordanian citizen Alaa Omar Mohamed Sablan.
Asmaa Mohamed al-Khatib, identified as a reporter with the pro-Brotherhood Rassd news outlet, was also sentenced to death in absentia.
The case of Morsi, who is also charged for espionage for Qatar, was however, adjourned.
The judgment will either be approved or reduced in June after consultations with Egypt’s mufti, the highest Sunni religious leader in the country. The court may or may not consider the mufti’s feedback.
Egyptian law requires the mufti to sign off on death sentences. His opinion is not binding but is usually respected by courts.
Morsi has already been sentenced to life and 20 years in prison in three separate trials.
Overthrown in 2013
Muslim Brotherhood-backed Morsi was overthrown by the military in July 2013 after mass protests a year after he took office as the first democratically elected leader.
Senior leaders in the Muslim Brotherhood and their followers have been sentenced to death in different cases since military leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi overthrew Morsi’s government.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which has since been banned, has dismissed the sentences and other harsh verdicts as politically motivated.
The Egyptian government has repeatedly said that the country’s courts operate independently.
“I believe that this is a weak point in the Egyptian system, which might bring catastrophes to the whole country , especially when it comes to freedoms and human rights,” Al Jazeera’s Middle East Analyst Yahia Ghanem said on the judgment.