CAIRO • Al-Jazeera reporter Peter Greste, an Australian, called yesterday for Egypt's president to pardon him and two colleagues handed prison sentences in a shock ruling that sparked international condemnation and that he described as "politically motivated".
The Cairo court said Mr Greste, Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed had broadcast "false" news that had harmed Egypt, and sentenced them on Saturday to three years in jail.
The case is embarrassing for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has said he wished the men had been deported rather than put on trial. He may pardon them if he chooses.
"In the absence of any evidence of wrongdoing, the only conclusion we can come to is that this verdict was politically motivated," Mr Greste told reporters in Sydney yesterday. He was tried in absentia after having been deported early this year.
"It is now up to President Sisi to do what he said he would do from the outset, and that is pardon us if we were ever convicted," he said.
The journalists were sentenced last year to seven to 10 years in jail, but an appeals court in January granted them a retrial, saying the verdict had not been backed by evidence.
They were arrested in December 2013, months after the military overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Mursi.
The United States called for the ruling to be overturned, saying it was "deeply disappointed and concerned". United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said on Saturday that he deeply regretted the sentencing of the journalists.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she was "dismayed" by the outcome. British Minister for the Middle East and North Africa Tobias Ellwood said it would "undermine confidence in Egypt's progress towards strong long-term stability based on implementing rights granted by the Constitution".
Meanwhile, Egypt summoned British Ambassador John Casson to reject as "unacceptable interference" comments he made on the ruling, state television said yesterday. After the sentencing, he allegedly suggested that Egypt's stability should be built on freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
Mr Fahmy's brother, Adel, said: "I'm shocked. Terribly shocked. We waited for an acquittal, and then found ourselves stuck again in the case. This is illogical."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, XINHUA