Egypt’s president has said he regrets the sentences passed on three Al Jazeera journalists and said he would have rather they were deported.
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told Egyptian media that his government had nothing to do with the court ruling and that the “verdict issued against a number of journalists” had had “very negative consequences.”
Publicly acknowledging that the country’s international reputation was affected by the case, Mr al-Sisi said he “wished they were deported immediately after their arrest instead of being put on trial.”
His views were published on the website of Egyptian-language daily newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm.
The trial of Australian-born Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohammed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed led to widespread criticism after the journalists were accused of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood, a group considered a terrorist organisation by the Egyptian government.
On 23 June the group were given between seven and 10 years in prison. David Cameron called the sentences “appalling,” while US Secretary of State John Kerry said they were “chilling and draconian.”
The five-month trial was condemned by free speech and human rights groups as an attempt to silence the media.
Al-Sisi said he could not interfere with the independent judiciary, despite a growing call for the President to pardon the convicted men.
Peter Greste’s brother, Andrew, has welcomed the comments and described them as “heartening.”
Andrew, who visited Egypt last week, told reports in Brisbane: “I'm sure images of Peter in the cage in the court are not images Egypt really want distributed around the world,” AFP reports.
“And the publicity they're getting out of this I'm sure is not the publicity any country would want.”
He hopes that the continual discussion on the journalists’ jailing could lead to an “amicable solution.”
President al-Sisi did not elaborate on how Baher Mohammed, one of the three imprisoned, would be deported as he is an Egyptian national.
Last month journalists staged a protest against the sentences, with BBC’s Director of News, James Harding, leading a one minute silence while the New York Times dedicated its back page to the jailed three.
Mr Kerry visited Mr al-Sisi a day before the sentences were passed to renew political ties with the country following its ousting of Mohamed Morsi last July.
In an embarrassment to the senior US official, the jail terms were given just after he pledged to resume aid to the country having revealed that the US has released $575million.