China on Tuesday went against the worldwide outrage expressed at the sentencing of three journalists in Egypt to long jail terms, essentially saying it was Egypt's internal matter and linking it to the ongoing political disturbance in the country.
Al Jazeera journalists, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, detained for several months now, were pronounced guilty on charges - which governments and rights groups have questioned - for seven to 10 years.
"Greste and Fahmy were sentenced to seven years in prison, while Baher Mohamed was sentenced to an additional three years for possession of ammunition. Mohamed was in possession of a spent bullet casing he had found on the ground during a protest," an Al Jazeera report said.
The Monday pronouncement triggered worldwide criticism.
But China, which ranks lowly in the index for journalistic freedom, remained, probably expectedly, aloof.
"I have noted relevant report. This is related to the current situation in Egypt. We hope that parties concerned in Egypt can push forward inclusive political transition through negotiation and dialogue so that stability can be regained as soon as possible," was foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying's curt reply to a question – repeated by an Al Jazeera journalist – at then regular briefing on Tuesday.
According to the prosecution, said the Al Jazeera report, Greste, Al Jazeera's East Africa correspondent, and his Egypt bureau colleagues aided the Brotherhood and produced false news reports of the situation in Egypt.
Sharp questions, however, have been raised about the judicial process leading to the prosecution.
"Proceedings that clearly appear not to meet basic fair trial standards, particularly those resulting in the imposition of the death penalty, are likely to undermine prospects for long-term stability," Stephen Dujarric, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon's spokesperson said, after Ban expressed his concern over the verdicts related to the journalists and death sentences given to 183 people.
In China, journalists are routinely prevented from carrying out independent reporting.
Last week, China's State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television issued a circular, reported on by the official news agency, Xinhua, banning journalists from publishing negative comments either privately or via media outlets without the approval of the news organisations they work for.
The circular was "part of a national clean up of crooked and fake reporters who want hush money for burying negative stories, which, in many cases, carry little truth," the report said.