CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said he wished three jailed Al-Jazeera journalists including an Australian had never been tried, in an expression of regret relatives described as encouraging on Monday.
Australian Peter Greste, Ca–nadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were sentenced to between seven and 10 years in jail on charges of defaming Egypt and aiding banned Islamists, in a ruling that sparked a global outcry and demands for a presidential pardon.
The June 23 sentencing has had a “very negative effect,” Sisi told Egyptian news chiefs, according to the mass circulation newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm.
“The sentencing of several journalists had a very negative effect, and we had nothing to do with it,” Sisi was quoted as saying.
“I wish they were deported after their arrest, instead of being put on trial,” he added, apparently referring to Greste, the sole non-Egyptian.
The verdicts, a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry visited the newly elected Sisi in a show of support, was seen as deeply embarrassing for Ame–rica’s top diplomat.
Washington described the sentencing of the journalists as “draconian” and called on Sisi to release them, while the United Nations said imprisoning them was “obscene.”
Former army chief Sisi, who won elections in May, a year after overthrowing Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, had said he would not interfere with Egypt’s courts, which the government says are independent.
But in the meeting with newspaper editors, Sisi appeared to regret the blowback from the trial, in a move welcomed by Greste’s family.
His brother Andrew, who visited Egypt just last week, described Sisi’s comments as “heartening.”
“I’m sure images of Peter in the cage in the court are not images Egypt really want distributed around the world,” he told reporters in Brisbane.
“And the publicity they’re getting out of this I’m sure is not the publicity any country would want,” Sisi’s brother added.
He said he was not sure if the president’s comments would lead to a resolution, after his previous refusal to intervene in judicial matters.
“I’d like to think that there’s things happening at all levels . . . and every one can talk about it and seek an amicable solution,” the brother said.