Newly elected Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Tuesday he would not interfere with judicial verdicts, following an international outcry over lengthy prison sentences given to three Al Jazeera journalists a day earlier.
“We will not interfere in judicial rulings,” Sisi said in a televised speech at a military graduation ceremony in Cairo. “We must respect judicial rulings and not criticise them even if others do not understand this.”
The journalists – an Australian, a Canadian-Egyptian and an Egyptian – were each jailed for seven years on Monday for aiding a “terrorist organisation”, a reference to the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
The sentences were widely criticised by rights groups and Western governments, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry calling them “chilling and draconian” and the U.N. warning of “a risk that miscarriage of justice is becoming the norm in Egypt.”
Egypt’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday that it “rejects any comment from a foreign party that casts doubt on the independence of the Egyptian judiciary and the justice of its verdicts.”
Sisi was elected last month, less than a year after removing Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, a member of the Brotherhood, following mass protests against his rule.
The Brotherhood, which says it is a peaceful organisation, was banned and declared a terrorist group after Mursi was toppled.