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Egypt sentences 3 Al-Jazeera reporters to 7 years

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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napa422 June 23 2014 at 7:18 AM

IF AMERICA IS THE DEVIL, AND WE ARE THE INFIDELS,,WHAT ARE ALL THE MUSLIMS DOING HERE?

Flag Reply +35 rate up
15 replies
Jim June 23 2014 at 6:00 AM

This network is on DirecTV and should not be allowed in the USA

Flag Reply +28 rate up
7 replies
sirwilhelm June 23 2014 at 8:01 AM

It's hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys in the Muslim world, because they all follow an evil deity, and his evil prophet. Evil is it's own worst enemy.

Flag Reply +19 rate up
5 replies
keithj77441 June 23 2014 at 5:47 AM

al Jazeera-----------just a clone of the liEberal media 6 networks in the USA

Flag Reply +17 rate up
4 replies
revivalman June 23 2014 at 11:29 AM

The simple truth is, the Obama administration is supporting and funding a new military dictatorship led by Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. To now expect the legal system in Egypt to fairly deal with justice is a joke. It will follow the dictates of el Sisi. Apparently, Obama's foreign policy towards Egypt continues to be driven by the delusional and misguided argument of stability vs. democracy. But even an untrained eye can look at the violence in Egypt since the military coup to see that argument is a myth.

Just in case you have forgotten, Obama, with the approval of a corrupt US Congress, is now giving Egypt $1.5 billion in annual aid, most of which goes directly to the country’s army which overthrew Egypt's democratically elected ex-president, Mohamed Morsi. This is in addition to F-16 fighter jets, Apache helicopters, tanks and armored personnel carriers, and thousands of small arms and ammunition.

Flag Reply +14 rate up
1 reply
swkykhk revivalman June 23 2014 at 12:37 PM

Name your sources. or are you just repeating the faux news line o shia...

Flag Reply +2 rate up
2 replies
criscrash swkykhk June 23 2014 at 1:05 PM

You're a liberal scholar, how about you google it, it is not hard to find!

Flag +5 rate up
micknc2 swkykhk June 23 2014 at 1:17 PM

swkykhk ....this news has been on both al Jeezera and MSNBC, so if you follow the news at all, you should know about it. or maybe you're just one of those moronic liberal trolls who post nothing of value on the internet.

Flag +4 rate up
bigfile4 June 23 2014 at 9:56 AM

Al Jazeera in the USA or other Western Nations is like having your house infested with rats. They exist here because we are so set on making believe we can live with people who wish we would disappear and use our laws to create their vermin nests. We can see the bleeding hearts claiming they are a 'reliable and truthful' news source. How would they know the difference?

Flag Reply +12 rate up
w1cbs June 23 2014 at 10:03 AM

Al-Jazeera is part of the global conquest of the Islamist.
They pretended to be reporters. But they are reporting nothing but lies to help our common enemy.
I am amazed at new Egyptian government courage to face this evil.
At the same time I am disgusting with the West compliance with our worst enemies.

Flag Reply +9 rate up
2 replies
Bobby Brown w1cbs June 23 2014 at 10:06 AM

KEY WORD---military RULE---ha

Flag Reply +1 rate up
roy w1cbs June 23 2014 at 3:00 PM

They face evil by being evil themselves by convicting without evidence or pretense of facts to back up the charges against them. How would that fly over here???

Flag Reply +1 rate up
wllharrington June 23 2014 at 8:55 AM

Acquitting the son of a Muslim Brotherhood leader, does that tell you anything?

Flag Reply +8 rate up
1 reply
ganderrrr wllharrington June 23 2014 at 12:04 PM

Not much. After all, in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood has been driven deep underground, and the president is a military general.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
oujoou June 23 2014 at 8:21 AM

When an injustice is done in a 'dubious' country . . . the worst thing to do is to try to pressure people. You hate them. They hate you. They'll go the other way and create even nastier penalties for westerners and journalists. The only way to free these innocent people is to smooth out the vibe . . . and work something out. No one wants to be anyone's enemy . . .in reality. Although it's much easier to make enemies than friends. Find something the Egyptians want. And make an exchange. These are 3 human beings in jail who have done nothing wrong. The sooner these journalists get released . . . the better everyone will feel. Grease that monkey. Every crisis is an opportunity to create deeper lasting relationships. :(

Flag Reply +7 rate up
1 reply
cqdeed oujoou June 23 2014 at 4:56 PM

Are you suggesting they model their justice system after the US and let those with money buy their justice?

Flag Reply +1 rate up
scififan7 June 23 2014 at 10:09 AM

Good for Egypt! These "journalist" stir up most of the trouble just to get a story. This is true of ALL journalists!

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
pipetsa scififan7 June 23 2014 at 12:23 PM

VERY POOR THINKING UNLESS YOU CARE NOTHING ABOUT FREE SPEECH OR FREDOM OF THE PRESS.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
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