Egypt’s foreign ministry has called in the British ambassador to Cairo amid diplomatic tension over the jailing of three Al-Jazeera English journalists for three years’ each for reporting “false news”.
John Casson made comments that were critical of the sentences, which the ministry said were “unacceptable interference” in the country’s judiciary, and “incompatible with diplomatic norms and practices”.
A court sentenced Australian Peter Greste, Canadian Mohammed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohammed on Saturday, sparking renewed uproar over the long-running case and highlighting the authorities’ crackdown on free speech.
Speaking to television cameras in Arabic after the verdict, Casson said 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,” Casson said.
The British Embassy said on Sunday Casson had met Hisham Seif al-Din, chief of staff to foreign minister Sameh Shoukry, at the ministry’s request.
“Ambassador Casson explained the UK position on yesterday’s court ruling set out in statements in London and Cairo yesterday,” it said in a statement on Sunday, adding that Casson would transmit the Egyptian side’s concerns to ministers in London.
The Foreign Office had no further comment.
Greste has said it would be “completely inappropriate” for the British Government to host talks with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after the court’s decision.
It was announced in June that there will be bilateral discussions later this year with the former head of Egypt’s armed forces, who led the coup overthrowing Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.
But Greste, who was deported from Egypt in February, has said holding the talks will “send out a very negative message”.