NGOs urge Sisi to pardon Al-Jazeera journalists

The three-year prison sentence handed down to the Al-Jazeera journalists on Saturday has provoked outrage among non-government organizations (NGOs) that believe the ruling violates the freedom of press.
On Saturday, the Egyptian court sentenced three Al-Jazeera journalists to three years in prison for operating without a press license and broadcasting false news which could undermine Egypt's national security.
The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) released a press statement on Sunday condemning the ongoing arrest of journalists, which is being done in complete contradiction to not only Egypt's constitution, but the international charters Egypt has signed as well.
EOHR argued that President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi should pardon the journalists.
The statement called on Sisi to apply Article 155 of the Constituion, which gives him the authority to issue a presidential pardon in the event a verdict is final.
“Referring various journalists to investigations is threatening the freedom of expression, so amending various laws restricting media freedom is a top priority,” said EOHR President Hafez Abo Seda.
Seda further pointed to the fact that journalists should have the right to publish any information they can obtain, especially considering that many laws put heavy restrictions on the media, giving them little access to information. Additionally, he believes changes should be made to the criminal laws, as some articles still make reference to punishing journalists by handing down harsh verdicts, yet another barrier to press freedom.
The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) has, in the meantime, also denounced the verdict in an official press statement.
“The verdict was reduced to three years in the retrial compared to seven years in the first trial, but is still a violation to the expression of freedom,” the statement read. 
It also pointed out that the case has “political roots” and Al-Jazeera journalists are paying the price for a three-year political conflict between Egyptian authorities and their Qatari counterparts that began when former president Mohammed Morsi was ousted in July 2013.
“The verdict is a new violation added to the Egyptian authority’s many others against press freedom which is supposedly safeguarded by the Egyptian constitution and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which banned any restrictions put on freedom of expression except for unexceptional reasons,” the statement read.
The ANHRI has called on the government not to involve the journalists in any political confrontations against the Muslim Brotherhood, or any other political trend, as journalists are doing their job by broadcasting the news in an unbiased way. 
The ANHRI is looking forward to the acquittal of the journalists after the possible filing of an appeal with the Court of Cassation.

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