US condemns Egypt's ruling on al-Jazeera journalists, including Australian Peter Greste

Washington: The United States government has condemned the sentencing in Egypt of al-Jazeera journalists including the Australian Peter Greste in strong statements by the White House and the State Department, but has so far not detailed any steps it might take to see them overturned.

“We call on the Egyptian government to pardon these individuals or commute their sentences so that they can be released immediately and grant clemency for all politically motivated sentences, starting with the other defendants in this trial,” said spokesman Josh Earnest the during the White House daily briefing.

“We strongly urge President al-Sisi, in the spirit of his pledge to review all human rights legislation, to provide the protections for free expression and assembly as well as the fair trial safeguards that are required by Egypt's international obligations.”

In another statement the Secretary of State, John Kerry, said, “[The] conviction and chilling, draconian sentences by the Cairo Criminal Court of three al-Jazeera journalists and 15 others in a trial that lacked many fundamental norms of due process, is a deeply disturbing setback to Egypt's transition.

“The Egyptian government should review all of the political sentences and verdicts pronounced during the last few years and consider all available remedies, including pardons.

Later the State Department’s daily briefing was dominated by the issue, with journalists demanding to know what practical measures the United States might be prepared to take to pressure the Egyptian government to overturn the sentences or pardon the journalists.

Asked more than once if the sentences and other allegations of human rights abuses in Egypt might prompt the US to reconsider its massive military aid the State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the relationship between the two nations was complicated.

“There is a pattern [of human rights abuses] here. We are working with the Egyptians to try and break it… But again, these things aren't mutually exclusive. We can, on the one hand, express our displeasure, express our concern about human rights, and also say but there is, at times, a shared interest to provide some assistance. It's not black and white.”

The sentences against Mr Greste and two other journalists who were found guilty of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood came down just hours after Mr Kerry left Egypt after holding a 90-minute visit with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

After that meeting, held to reaffirm Washington’s “historic partnership” with Cairo, Mr Kerry expressed confidence that the US would soon fully restore $US575 million ($610 million) worth of aid suspended after the military takeover, the New York Times reported. That sum is just the first tranche $US1.3 billion in aid.

He said he expected a suspended shipment of Apache helicopter gunship to arrive in Egypt “very, very soon.”

In a statement Ms Harf told Fairfax Media that Mr Kerry had raised the charges during his talks.

This story US condemns Egypt's ruling on al-Jazeera journalists, including Australian Peter Greste first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.