Network calls verdict ‘irrational’ and part of a campaign by Egyptian authorities ‘against Al Jazeera and its journalists’.
Al Jazeera Media Network presenter Ahmed Taha has denounced as “lacking logic” the decision by an Egyptian court to sentence him to 15 years in jail in absentia.
Taha said the ruling is “shameful” for those who issued it, not for himself and fellow journalists.
“This sentence is not against me; it’s against Al Jazeera Network, against press freedom and journalists in Egypt,” Taha told Al Jazeera in a TV interview on Tuesday.
An Egyptian court had sentenced Taha to 15 years in jail for “spreading false news” over a 2018 interview with Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a leading opposition figure and former presidential candidate.
Al Jazeera had also condemned what it called the “irrational verdict”, describing it as an “attempt to criminalise the profession of journalism”.
“The Network asserts that the Cairo Criminal Court’s decision represents yet another disgrace for the legal and judiciary system in Egypt and that the decision has no legal foundation,” Al Jazeera said in a statement.
Al Jazeera also renewed the call for releasing four of its journalists who have been imprisoned in Egypt.
“Al Jazeera Media Network also reiterates its demand for the release of the four Al Jazeera Mubasher journalists, who are currently detained in Egypt without any charges (Hisham Abdel Aziz, Bahaa El-Din Ibrahim, Ahmed Al-Najdi and Rabie Al-Sheikh),” it said.
“It calls on all international press freedom organizations to condemn their arbitrary detention and demands their immediate release.”
It added that the ruling against Taha is part of an “ongoing campaign launched by the Egyptian authorities against Al Jazeera and its journalists”.
A defiant Taha promised to continue to do his work, saying that he would interview Aboul Fotouh again if asked as part of his job. Aboul Fotouh himself was sentenced to 15 years in jail this week over accusations of plotting against the state.
“This message will make us more determined to continue on this road [of journalism] because we are doing our work with the utmost professionalism and objectivity and dedication,” Taha said.
The sentencing of Taha comes months after Egypt released its National Strategy on Human Rights, a plan to address abuses committed in the country.
Rights groups have accused the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who came to power in a 2013 military coup, of jailing tens of thousands of dissidents and outlawing virtually all forms of political opposition. Cairo has denied holding political prisoners.
On Tuesday, Taha expressed bewilderment at the ruling against him. “How would you stand in front of the world and say: ‘I sentenced a TV presenter to 15 years because he hosted a public figure. How are they going to justify this?’”