An Egyptian court on Monday convicted three journalists from Al-Jazeera English and sentenced them to seven years in prison each on terrorism-related charges, bringing widespread criticism that the verdict was a blow to freedom of expression.
The three, Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohammed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohammed, have been detained since a December raid on their Cairo hotel room, which they were using as an office as they covered protests by supporters of the ousted Islamist president. The raid was part of a broad crackdown against Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood.
They had pleaded innocent, saying they were simply doing their jobs as journalists. But they were charged with supporting the Brotherhood, which has been declared a terrorist organization, and of fabricating footage to undermine Egypt’s national security and make it appear the country was facing civil war.
The prosecution provided little evidence in the case, showing video footage found in their possession — most of which had nothing to do with the case, including a report on a veterinary hospital in Cairo, Christian life and old footage of Greste from previous assignments elsewhere in Africa.
“I swear they will pay for this,” Fahmy, who was Al-Jazeera English’s acting Cairo bureau chief, shouted angrily from the defendants’ cage after the sentences were announced in the Cairo court Monday. Greste, a correspondent, raised his fists in the air.
“They just ruined a family,” said Fahmy’s brother Adel, who was attending the session. He said they would appeal the verdict but added that he had little faith in the system. “Everything is corrupt,” he said. Greste’s brother Andrew said he was “gutted” and also vowed to appeal.
Australian Foreign Minister Julia Bishop said, “We are all shocked by this verdict,” adding that the government would contact newly elected Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and ask him to intervene in the case.