International Outcry After Egypt Sentences 3 Al Jazeera Journalists to Prison

From left, Al Jazeera journalists Mohammed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohammed appear in a defendant's cage in a courtroom in Cairo during a May session of their trial on terror charges. (Hamada Elrasam / Associated Press)
From left, Al Jazeera journalists Mohammed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohammed appear in a defendant’s cage in a courtroom in Cairo during a May session of their trial on terror charges. (Hamada Elrasam / Associated Press)

An Egyptian judge on Monday sentenced three journalists for the Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera to between seven and 10 years in prison on terrorism-related charges, stunning their supporters and raising an immediate outcry from human rights advocates and foreign governments.

The harsh sentence came only a day after U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry visited Cairo and told Egyptian officials that the Obama administration would like to see the men freed. The charges against the journalists are widely viewed as politicized, stemming from Egypt’s anger over Qatari criticism of the Egyptian military’s deposing of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi last summer.

The three — Australian Peter Greste, Canadian Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed — all work for Al Jazeera’s English-language service. All have strenuously denied any wrongdoing, and defense lawyers said the sentences would be appealed.

President Abdel Fattah Sisi, in office just two weeks but the country’s de facto leader for nearly a year, immediately came under diplomatic pressure over the verdict, with Egypt’s envoys in Britain and the Netherlands summoned by the respective governments. Two Britons and a Dutch national also charged in the case were convicted in absentia and sentenced to 10-year terms.

In the crowded courtroom, with the white-clad defendants looking on from a caged dock, the verdict elicited gasps and groans. Fahmy’s fiancee stormed from the courtroom, and Greste’s brother, Andrew, said afterward he was “gutted, devastated.”

Rights groups called the outcome a heavy blow to press freedom, particularly in the wake of Egypt’s broad rollback of other basic rights, including freedom of expression and assembly. Amnesty International denounced the proceedings as a sham.

The journalists have already been jailed for nearly six months following their arrests at the end of December. They have been vilified in the official Egyptian media as supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement of the ousted Morsi. State-run and pro-military outlets called them the “Marriott cell,” in reference to the Cairo hotel where they worked out of a suite.

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SOURCE: AMRO HASSAN, LAURA KING 
The Los Angeles Times