President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi says Egypt’s authorities “will not interfere in judicial matters” a day after three Al-Jazeera journalists, including Australian Peter Greste, were jailed for between seven and 10 years.
The United States is leading calls for Sisi to pardon the journalists working for the Qatar-based network who were convicted on Monday of aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood Islamist movement and “spreading false news”.
Eleven defendants tried in absentia, including one Dutch journalist and two British journalists, were given 10-year sentences.
A presidency official said that Sisi cannot legally pardon the journalists until a final court ruling after an appeal.
Sisi said on Tuesday he had called the justice minister to stress that the authorities “will not interfere in judicial matters”.
Greste and Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy each got seven-year terms in a Cairo court, while Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed received two sentences of seven and three years.
Monday’s verdicts sparked an international outcry, with Australia saying it was “appalled” and US Secretary of State John Kerry denouncing “a chilling and draconian sentence”.
On Tuesday, Sisi said in a televised speech at a military graduation ceremony: “We have to respect judicial rulings and not comment on them even if others don’t understand them.”
Al-Jazeera says only nine of the 20 defendants are on its staff.
Sixteen defendants in the trial are Egyptians who were accused of belonging to the Brotherhood, which the authorities designated a “terrorist organisation” in December.
Foreign defendants were alleged to have collaborated with and assisted their Egyptian co-defendants by providing media material, as well as editing and broadcasting it.