Egypt sentences 3 Al-Jazeera reporters to 7 years

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Egypt Sentences Al Jazeera journalists
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Egypt sentences 3 Al-Jazeera reporters to 7 years
FILE- In this Monday, March 31, 2014 file photo, Al-Jazeera English producer Baher Mohamed, center left, Canadian-Egyptian acting Cairo bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy, center, and correspondent Peter Greste, second right, appear in court along with several other defendants during their trial on terror charges, in Cairo, Egypt. Judge Mohammed Nagui Shehata sentenced the three journalists to seven years in prison. They had been accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which the authorities have declared a terrorist organization. The case has caused an outcry, with rights groups saying the prosecution of the journalists was politicized and undermines freedom of expression in Egypt. (AP Photo/Heba Elkholy, El Shorouk, File) EGYPT OUT
FILE - In this Thursday, May 15, 2014 file photo, from left, Mohammed Fahmy, Canadian-Egyptian acting bureau chief of Al-Jazeera, Australian correspondent Peter Greste, and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed appear in a defendant's cage along with several other defendants during their trial on terror charges at a courtroom in Cairo. Egyptian Judge Mohamed Nagui Shehata has sentenced the three journalists to seven years in prison Monday, June 23, 2014 in their trial on terrorism-related charges. (AP Photo/Hamada Elrasam, File)
FILE - In this May 3, 2014 file photo, Al-Jazeera's award-winning Australian correspondent Peter Greste appears in a defendants' cage in the Police Academy courthouse along with several other defendants during a trial on terror charges in Cairo, Egypt. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Monday, June 23 that he told Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi that the jailed Australian journalist is innocent of charges that he supported the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. (AP Photo/Hamada Elrasam, File)
Al-Jazeera Arabic service journalist Abdullah Elshamy, center, who had been on hunger strike for more than four months to protest his prolonged detention without charges, kisses his mothers forehead after his release from detention in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, June 17, 2014. Elshamy was swept up with hundreds of protesters on Aug. 14, 2013 while covering the violent dispersal of a sprawling sit-in by ousted President Mohammed Morsi supporters, which saw hundreds killed and thousands wounded. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
Al-Jazeera Arabic service journalist Abdullah Elshamy, center, who had been on hunger strike for more than four months to protest his prolonged detention without charges, speaks to the media after his release from detention in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, June 17, 2014. Elshamy was swept up with hundreds of protesters on Aug. 14, 2013 while covering the violent dispersal of a sprawling sit-in by ousted President Mohammed Morsi supporters, which saw hundreds killed and thousands wounded. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
FILE - In this Thursday, May 15, 2014 file photo, from left, Mohammed Fahmy, Canadian-Egyptian acting bureau chief of Al-Jazeera, Australian correspondent Peter Greste, and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed appear in a defendant's cage along with several other defendants during their trial on terror charges at a courtroom in Cairo. Egypt’s state news agency says the trial of three Al-Jazeera English journalists and 17 others has adjourned until next week when the judge will deliver the verdict, five months after the trial opened. Fahmy, Greste and Baher have been in detention since December 29. (AP Photo/Hamada Elrasam, File)
Al-Jazeera's acting bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian, center, and Australian correspondent Peter Greste, center right, appear in a defendant cage along with other defendants during a trial on terrorism charges in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, May 22, 2014. A defense lawyer for one of three Al-Jazeera journalists on trial in Egypt on terrorism charges has told the judge that the proceedings against his client "make no sense." (AP Photo/Ahmed Gamil)
Al-Jazeera's Egyptian journalist Abdullah Elshamy, center, appears in a defendants' cage along with several other defendants in a courthouse during a trial on terror charges in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, May 15, 2014. Looking thin and weak, an Al-Jazeera journalist held without charges in Egypt vowed Thursday to continue his more than 100-day hunger strike despite being moved to solitary confinement. (AP Photo/Hamada Elrasam)
Farag Fathi, lawyer for Al-Jazeera's Australian correspondent Peter Greste prepares to leave the court as he decided to quit the case during the trial in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, May 15, 2014. Fathi and two other lawyers representing Al-Jazeera English journalists on trial in Egypt abruptly have quit the case, accusing the Doha-based network of using the arrest of their staff to tarnish Egypt’s image. (AP Photo/Hamada Elrasam)
Mohammed Fahmy, Canadian-Egyptian acting bureau chief of Al-Jazeera, from left, Australian correspondent Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed appear in a defendant's cage along with several other defendants during their trial on terror charges at a courtroom in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, May 15, 2014. Three lawyers representing Al-Jazeera English journalists on trial in Egypt abruptly have quit the case, accusing the Doha-based network of using the arrest of their staff to tarnish Egypt’s image. (AP Photo/Hamada Elrasam)
Australian correspondent of Al-Jazeera Peter Greste appears in a defendant's cage along with several other defendants during their trial on terror charges at a courtroom in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, May 15, 2014. Three lawyers representing Al-Jazeera English journalists on trial in Egypt abruptly have quit the case, accusing the Doha-based network of using the arrest of their staff to tarnish Egypt’s image. (AP Photo/Hamada Elrasam)
Australian correspondent of Al-Jazeera Peter Greste appears in a defendant's cage along with several other defendants during their trial on terror charges at a courtroom in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, May 15, 2014. Three lawyers representing Al-Jazeera English journalists on trial in Egypt abruptly have quit the case, accusing the Doha-based network of using the arrest of their staff to tarnish Egypt’s image. (AP Photo/Hamada Elrasam)
Mohammed Fahmy, Canadian-Egyptian acting bureau chief of Al-Jazeera, left, and Australian correspondent Peter Greste appear in a defendant's cage along with several other defendants during their trial on terror charges at a courtroom in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, May 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Hamada Elrasam)
Canadian-Egyptian acting Al-Jazeera bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy talks to the judge in a courthouse near Tora prison along with several other defendants during their trial on terror charges in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, May 3, 2014. Fahmy made a rare appeal to the judge from outside of the defendants' cage, at the end of which the judge wished him a "happy" World Press Freedom Day. In his brief plea Saturday, Fahmy stood directly before the judge's bench. Fahmy said journalists have to speak to all sides to do their jobs including both the government and the Muslim Brotherhood, among others. (AP Photo/Hamada Elrasam)
Al-Jazeera's award-winning Australian correspondent Peter Greste, center, and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed appear in a defendants' cage in a courthouse near Tora prison along with other defendants during their trial on terror charges in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, May 3, 2014. Greste and Mohamed, along with Al-Jazeera employee Mohammed Fahmy, face charges of being part of a terrorist group and airing falsified footage intended to damage Egyptian national security. Al-Jazeera and the journalists have denied the charges. (AP Photo/Hamada Elrasam)
FILE - In this file photo taken Wednesday, March 5, 2014, Al Jazeera English bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, left, producer Baher Mohamed, second left, and correspondent Peter Greste, center, stand inside the defendants' cage in a courtroom during their trial on terror charges, along with several other defendants, in Cairo Egypt. Pan-Arab satellite network Al Jazeera said Monday, April 28, that it has filed a claim against Egypt demanding $150 million in compensation to cover what it says are damages to its investments in the country since July. (AP Photo/Mohammed Abu Zaid, File)
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CAIRO (AP) -- An Egyptian court convicted three Al-Jazeera journalists and sentenced them to seven years in prison each on terrorism-related charges in a verdict Monday that stunned their families and raised international outrage, with a chorus of voices denouncing the ruling as a blow to freedom of expression.

The verdicts against Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohammed came after a 5-month trial that Amnesty International described as a "sham." The group called Monday's rulings "a dark day for media freedom in Egypt."

The three, who have been detained since December, contend they are being prosecuted simply for doing their jobs as journalists, covering Islamist protests against the ouster last year of President Mohammed Morsi. The trial has been widely seen as political, part of a fight between the government and the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network, which authorities accuse of bias toward the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi. The network denies any bias.

Egypt Court Sentences Al Jazeera Journalists To 7-10 Years

In an unprecedented trial of journalists on terrorism charges, prosecutors charged them with supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been declared a terrorist group, and with fabricating footage to damage Egypt's security. But observers of the trial said the prosecution presented no evidence to support the charges. Three other foreign journalists - two Britons who worked for Al-Jazeera and a Dutch freelance reporter who had no connection to Al-Jazeera but once met Fahmy for tea in his makeshift office at a luxury hotel in Cairo - were sentenced to 10 years in absentia.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry denounced the verdict as "chilling" and it flies in the face of the essential ingredients of a civil society and free press. He said that he is voicing his concern to Egypt's foreign minister.

A day earlier, Kerry met with Egypt's newly elected President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the former army chief who ousted Morsi. Kerry said he discussed the Al-Jazeera case with him and expressed optimism, saying el-Sissi gave "a very strong sense of his commitment" to review the judicial process as well as laws that have been sharply criticized by rights groups.

International pressure mounted on el-Sissi to intervene and pardon the three. He has the power to do so, but only after appeals are finished, a process that could take months.

The convictions and sentences stunned the defendants and their families and supporters in the Cairo courtroom.

"They will pay for this, I promise," Fahmy, who was Al-Jazeera English's acting Cairo bureau chief, shouted angrily. Guards pulled him from the defendants' cage, dragging him by the arms - despite a shoulder injury that worsened into a permanent disability during his months in detention.

Greste, an award-winning correspondent, silently raised a clinched fist in the air.

Fahmy's mother and fiancee broke down in tears. "Did anybody see any evidence against him?" his mother, Wafaa Bassiouni cried out. "Who did he kill?"

"This is a screwed up system. This whole government is incompetent," his brother Adel said. He said the family would appeal the verdict but added, "There is no hope in the judicial system."

Greste's brother Andrew said he was "gutted" and also vowed to appeal. "From my point of view, we have seen no incriminating evidence in court," he said. "It is extremely difficult to understand."

The three received sentences of seven years each in a maximum security prison. Mohammed, the team's producer, received an extra three years because of additional charges of possession of ammunition - a reference to a spent shell he had picked up from protests as a souvenir.

There were 17 co-defendants in the case - seven journalists and the rest students arrested separately and accused of giving footage to the journalists. Four were sentenced to seven years each, two were acquitted, and the rest - tried in absentia - received 10-year sentences.

"We are shocked, utterly shocked by this verdict," Australian Foreign Minister Julia Bishop told journalists in Canberra. "This verdict is hardly sending the message to the international community that Egypt is fulfilling (the) transition to democracy."

She said Australia would contact el-Sissi and ask him to intervene. Before the verdicts, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Monday he spoke with el-Sissi, told him that Greste was innocent and urged him to help.

Britain's Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said he was "appalled" by the verdict. The Foreign Office summoned Egypt's ambassador in London to express its concerns.

Egypt's Foreign Ministry said its ambassadors abroad would explain the verdicts and stress to international officials Egypt's "full rejection" of interference in its internal affairs or the independence of its judiciary.

If they appeal, the three journalists would remain in prison unless they win a separate "suspension of verdict" ruling. An appeal can grant them a retrial, but only if flaws in the court proceedings are found.

The trial has been seen as political, linked to the July 3 ouster of Morsi and the subsequent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Security forces have killed hundreds and arrested thousands more, trying to crush protests by Morsi supporters.

Qatar, which owns Al-Jazeera, was a top ally of Morsi, and the military-backed government has treated it as a bitter opponent. During the trial, Fahmy shouted in court that their prosecution was an extension of the fight between Egypt's government and Qatar.

In August, a journalist for Al-Jazeera's Arabic channel, Abdullah Elshamy, was arrested while covering protests. He was held without charge and went on hunger strike for more than four months until he was released last week.

The managing director of Qatar-based Al-Jazeera English, Al Anstey, said Egyptian authorities should be "held to account by the global community,"

"To have detained them for 177 days is an outrage. To have sentenced them defies logic, sense, and any semblance of justice," he said.

Egypt's courts have already come under heavy international criticism over trials connected to the anti-Islamist crackdown. Courts have sentenced to death hundreds after cursory mass trials on charges of involvement in deadly violence, usually with little evidence and little chance for the defense to present its case.

Greste, Fahmy and Mohammed were arrested in December when police raided the Cairo hotel room they were using as an office. Police confiscated their equipment, computers and other items.

During the trial, prosecutors contended they would present fabricated footage aired by the defendants as evidence they aimed to undermine Egypt's security.

Instead, they presented some footage showing clashes between pro-Morsi protesters and police, but without any indication it was falsified. They also cited as evidence leaflets that the three had picked up at the protests. Mostly, they presented random video clips also found on the three that had nothing to do with the case - including a report on a veterinary hospital in Cairo, another on Christian life in Egypt and old footage of Greste from previous assignments elsewhere in Africa, including video of animals.

The defense also complained repeatedly that it did not have access to the prosecution evidence.

Amnesty International's observer at the trial, Philip Luther, said the prosecution "failed to produce a single shred of solid evidence" backing the charges. In a statement by the group, he called the sentences "a travesty of justice."

He said the Egyptian courts have proved "unwilling or incapable of conducting an impartial and fair trial when it comes to those perceived to support the former president."

Shaimaa Aboul-kheir, of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the verdict shows "that Egypt is one of the dangerous and more risky countries for international journalists to work and it's also a very risky country for local journalists." The group said at least 14 journalists are behind bars in Egypt.

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Egypt sentences 3 Al-Jazeera reporters to 7 years
An Egyptian woman mourns as policemen stand guard after a judge sentenced to death 683 alleged supporters of the country's ousted Islamist president over acts of violence and the murder of policemen in the latest mass trial in the southern city of Minya, Egypt, Monday, April 28, 2014. Under the law, Monday's verdicts in Minya have to be referred to Egypt's Grand Mufti, the top Islamic official, said one of the attorneys, Ahmed Hefni. (AP Photo/Roger Anis, El Shorouk Newspaper) EGYPT OUT
An Egyptian woman mourns after a judge sentenced to death 683 alleged supporters of the country's ousted Islamist president over acts of violence and the murder of policemen in the latest mass trial in the southern city of Minya, Egypt, Monday, April 28, 2014. Under the law, Monday's verdicts in Minya have to be referred to Egypt's Grand Mufti, the top Islamic official, said one of the attorneys, Ahmed Hefni. (AP Photo/Ahmed Gomaa)
Egyptian women mourn after a judge sentenced to death 683 alleged supporters of the country's ousted Islamist president over acts of violence and the murder of policemen in the latest mass trial in the southern city of Minya, Egypt, Monday, April 28, 2014. Under the law, Monday's verdicts in Minya have to be referred to Egypt's Grand Mufti, the top Islamic official, said one of the attorneys, Ahmed Hefni. (AP Photo/Roger Anis, El Shorouk Newspaper) EGYPT OUT
An Egyptian woman overcome by emotion weeps after a judge sentenced to death more than 680 alleged supporters of the country’s ousted Islamist president over acts of violence and the murder of policemen in the latest mass trial in the southern city of Minya, Egypt, Monday, April 28, 2014. Attorney Ahmed Hefni told reporters outside the court in Minya on Monday that the death sentences first have to be approved by Egypt's mufti, the top Islamic official — a step that is usually considered a formality. (AP Photo/Ahmed Gomaa)
An Egyptian woman screams after a judge sentenced to death 683 alleged supporters of the country's ousted Islamist president over acts of violence and the murder of policemen in the latest mass trial in the southern city of Minya, Egypt, Monday, April 28, 2014. Under the law, Monday's verdicts in Minya have to be referred to Egypt's Grand Mufti, the top Islamic official, said one of the attorneys, Ahmed Hefni. (AP Photo/Roger Anis, El Shorouk Newspaper) EGYPT OUT
FILE - In this file photo taken Wednesday, March 5, 2014, Al Jazeera English bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, left, producer Baher Mohamed, second left, and correspondent Peter Greste, center, stand inside the defendants' cage in a courtroom during their trial on terror charges, along with several other defendants, in Cairo Egypt. Pan-Arab satellite network Al Jazeera said Monday, April 28, that it has filed a claim against Egypt demanding $150 million in compensation to cover what it says are damages to its investments in the country since July. (AP Photo/Mohammed Abu Zaid, File)
FILE - In this file photo taken Wednesday, March 5, 2014, Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste stands inside the defendants' cage in a courtroom during a trial on terror charges, along with several other defendants, in Cairo Egypt. Pan-Arab satellite network Al Jazeera said Monday, April 28, that it has filed a claim against Egypt demanding $150 million in compensation to cover what it says are damages to its investments in the country since July. (AP Photo/Mohammed Abu Zaid, File)
Egyptian women overcome by emotion fall to the ground after a judge sentenced to death more than 680 alleged supporters of the country’s ousted Islamist president over acts of violence and the murder of policemen in the latest mass trial in the southern city of Minya, Egypt, Monday, April 28, 2014. Attorney Ahmed Hefni told reporters outside the court in Minya on Monday that the death sentences first have to be approved by Egypt's mufti, the top Islamic official, a step that is usually considered a formality. (AP Photo/Ahmed Gomaa)
Egyptian women mourn after a judge sentenced to death 683 alleged supporters of the country's ousted Islamist president over acts of violence and the murder of policemen in the latest mass trial in the southern city of Minya, Egypt, Monday, April 28, 2014. Under the law, Monday's verdicts in Minya have to be referred to Egypt's Grand Mufti, the top Islamic official, said one of the attorneys, Ahmed Hefni. (AP Photo/Ahmed Gomaa)
An Egyptian woman holds a photo of her son after a judge sentenced to death 683 alleged supporters of the country's ousted Islamist president over acts of violence and the murder of policemen in the latest mass trial in the southern city of Minya, Egypt, Monday, April 28, 2014. Under the law, Monday's verdicts in Minya have to be referred to Egypt's Grand Mufti, the top Islamic official, said one of the attorneys, Ahmed Hefni. (AP Photo/Roger Anis, El Shorouk Newspaper) EGYPT OUT
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