Silent journalists' protest for jailed Al-Jazeera staff

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jun 25 2014 12:32 AM | Updated as of Jun 25 2014 08:33 AM

LONDON - Hundreds of journalists from the BBC and other news organisations held a silent protest in London on Tuesday in support of Al-Jazeera reporters jailed by an Egyptian court.

The journalists, many with black tape over their mouths, gathered outside the BBC's broadcasting headquarters to express their support for their former colleague, the award-winning Peter Greste from Australia, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and producer Baher Mohamed, who were sentenced to between seven and 10 years in jail.

In a case that has attracted international condemnation, they were convicted on Monday of aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood movement and "spreading false news".

James Harding, the head of BBC News, said the verdict was "unjust" and the case against the Al-Jazeera team was "unfounded".

"The Egyptian authorities are not just robbing three innocent men of their freedom, they are intimidating journalists," he said.

BBC investigative reporter John Sweeney, who has worked in Afghanistan and most recently undercover in North Korea, said the verdicts on Monday were "wrong, wrong, wrong".

"The Egyptian government has taken a step back into the middle ages," he said.

"They've locked up three people whose only crime was doing their job.

"Journalism is not a crime."

The protesters have sent a letter to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi calling on him to intervene.

But the president said Tuesday that the government would not interfere in the case.

Barnaby Phillips, an Al-Jazeera colleague of Greste's, said Greste was a "tough customer" who was dealing well with his ordeal.

"We hear from his family that yes of course there have been times of depression and despair, but Peter is a remarkably composed person and he's holding it together.

"He knows about the solidarity that is coming from elsewhere."

Phillips said his colleagues would keep up their pressure on the Egyptian authorities and hoped that external pressure would force them to free the journalists.

"We won't give up, we think that any government is not impervious to international condemnation, not just from journalists but diplomatic condemnation as well," he said.

"The Egyptian government is reliant on outside aid in a number of ways, it's reliant on military support, for example from the United States."