Cairo: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said he "wished" the three jailed Al-Jazeera journalists including an Austrailian were deported and not put on trial, conceding that the high profile case had been damaging for the country.
Last month, an Egyptian court sentenced an Australian reporter Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Al-Jazeera, English Cairo Bureau chief, Baher Mohamed for 7 to 10 years in prison for aiding the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement.
"The June 23 sentencing had a "very negative effect," Sisi conceded during his meeting with top editors yesterday, Al-Masry el-Youm newspaper reported.
"The sentencing of several journalists had a very negative effect, and we had nothing to do with it," he 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 only foreigner.
After the sentence in July, Sisi had said, he would not interfere in the court verdicts.
The sentence prompted widespread international condemnation with US describing the act as "draconian" and called on Sisi to release the journalists and the United Nations said imprisoning them was "obscene".
The comments could be a hint that he might use his power as president to pardon the journalists, who still have a chance to appeal the verdict in a higher court, according to Al-Bawaba website.
Since Islamist ex-president Morsi`s ouster last year, the Egyptian government has been cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood movement and its supporters and mostly Islamist media outlets including the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network.
The three journalists detained in December were convicted with charges of aiding the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement by broadcasting lies that harmed national security and supplying money, equipment and information to a group of Egyptians.