Egypt has summoned the British ambassador in Cairo for comments he made about a court's decision to sentence three Al-Jazeera journalists to prison. The diplomat had said he was "shocked" by the judge's ruling.
Egypt's Foreign Ministry said in a statement Sunday that diplomat John Casson's comments were "incompatible with diplomatic norms and practices," and an "unacceptable interference" in the country's judiciary.
In a retrial, the court on Saturday sentenced the journalists to three years imprisonment for operating without a license and broadcasting "false news."
Following the verdict, Casson told reporters in Arabic that he was "shocked and concerned by the sentences," in a case that is of "profound interest to Egyptians because it has become a symbol of the basis for stability in the new Egypt."
"I am concerned that today's ruling will undermine confidence in the basis of Egypt's stability, both in Egypt and abroad," he said.
Casson's comments were posted on the British Embassy's Facebook page and sparked a backlash in both Arabic and English.
The British Embassy said Casson met Hisham Seif al-Din, chief of staff to Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, at the ministry's request on Sunday. It also said the ministry's concerns would be passed on to government ministers in London.
Outcry over trial
Saturday's verdict was handed down to Canadian Mohammed Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohammed - all of them journalists with Al-Jazeera English. Judge Hassan Farid said in his ruling that he sentenced the men because they had not registered with the country's journalist syndicate, brought in equipment without security officials' approval and used central Cairo's Marriott hotel as a broadcasting point without permission.
The three journalists had originally been given seven to 10 years in prison on charges that included spreading lies in support of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. The trio have denied all charges, saying they were simply doing their job as reporters. They are expected to appeal the decision.
The ruling has been condemned by the European Union, the United States and the United Nations, as well as a number of human rights organizations and advocacy groups. The long-running trial has raised concerns about media freedom in Egypt, where the government has been cracking down on public dissent since the 2013 military ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi, a senior Brotherhood figure.
nm/sgb (Reuters, AP)