Egypt faces international backlash over Al Jazeera journalists
Egyptian ambassadors worldwide are bracing for a diplomatic storm following Monday's sentencing of three Al Jazeera journalists in Cairo, with the country's foreign minister directing envoys on "pre-emptive" measures, according to a statement from the foreign minstry.
The three journalists, including an Australian, were given seven to 10 years in jail on charges of broadcasting false news and aiding a terrorist organisation – a reference to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
Foreign officials and rights organisations were quick to condemn the ruling. Both the Netherlands and the UK summoned the Egyptian ambassadors in Amsterdam and London respectively.
Egypt's Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry has already ordered Egyptian embassies abroad to request urgent meetings with foreign affairs officials in which they are based, said a statement on the ministry's website.
Shoukry's directions include handing foreign ministers a translated statement from Egypt's general prosecutor explaining the circumstances behind the journalists' arrests and the charges brought to them.
The Egyptian ambassadors have also been given "speaking-points" to discuss with the diplomatic officials to affirm the independence of Egypt's judiciary and the rights of free and independent media guaranteed under Egypt's new constitution, passed last January.
These suggested "speaking-points" include an emphasis on the separation of legislative and judicial authorities and the affirmation that the defendants were arrested based on orders from the general prosecution, Egypt's assigned investigative judicial authorities.
They also include stressing that the convicted still have the right to appeal their verdicts, with a special emphasis that the convicted were tried in front of a normal civilian court, in front of a civilian judge.
The ministry's statement called the summoning of Egyptian ambassadors abroad – specifically the UK – a "diplomatic procedure" as well as an opportunity to explain the nature of the ruling and the independence of the judiciary.
The summoning is also an opportunity, according to the statement, for Egypt to affirm to foreign officials its complete refusal of any meddling in its domestic affairs or in the independence of its judiciary.
Hopes had been high before Monday's ruling that the three journalists – Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and producer Baher Mohamed – would be released, especially since the prosecution failed to produce any evidence that lawyers and rights groups deemed incriminating.
In March, interim president Adly Mansour sent Greste's family a letter promising to spare no effort to find a solution to the situation, which Al Jazeera said was "promising".
However, Greste, Famy and Mohamed were given seven years in jail. Mohamed was handed an extra three-year term and a fine of LE5,000 for possessing ammunition.
Four other defendants were sentenced to seven years in jail while two – including the son of prominent Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed El-Beltagy – were acquitted.
According to judicial sources, nine of the 20 defendants are in custody, while the 11 co-defendants who are being tried in absentia received 10 year terms each.