A Cairo court on Monday convicted three Al Jazeera English journalists on charges of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood in the ruling of a closely watched case discussed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday during his state visit with new Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The verdict is now sparking outrage from global press freedom activists.
Two journalists, Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy, where convicted to seven years in prison, while a third, Baher Mohamed, was sentenced to ten. They had been behind bars in Cairo since December 2013 on charges that include conspiring with the Brotherhood, spreading false news, and endangering national security.
Al Jazeera English managing director Al Anstey said the verdicts defied “logic, sense, and any semblance of justice.”
“Today three colleagues and friends were sentenced, and will continue to be kept behind bars for doing a brilliant job of being great journalists. ‘Guilty’ of covering stories with great skill and integrity. ‘Guilty’ of defending people’s right to know what is going on in their world,” Anstey was quoted by the Al Jazeera English website as saying.
“Peter, Mohamed, and Baher and six of our other colleagues were sentenced despite the fact that not a shred of evidence was found to support the extraordinary and false charges against them. At no point during the long drawn out ‘trial’ did the absurd allegations stand up to scrutiny.”
“There is only one sensible outcome now – for the verdict to be overturned, and justice to be recognised by Egypt,” he concluded.
Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed were working for Al Jazeera’s English-language news channel when they were detained on December 29, 2013, at the Cairo Marriott hotel. The three respected journalists have reportedly been linked by Egyptian prosecutors to supposed student terrorist groups, though no evidence was provided during the trial.
The three convicted journalists have all proclaimed their innocence.
Greste, an Al Jazeera correspondent, previously worked for CNN, Reuters and the BBC. Fahmy, the Al Jazeera English Cairo bureau chief, has also previously worked for CNN.
Evidence provided by the prosecution included footage from channels and events with nothing to do with Egyptian politics or Al-Jazeera, including a report on a veterinary hospital in Cairo, a song by the Australian singer Gotye, and a BBC documentary from Somalia.
Amnesty International and other observers have noted that Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed are pawns in a geopolitical clash between Egypt and Qatar. Al Jazeera is funded by the Gulf nation’s ruling family which is perceived as being close to the Muslim Brotherhood and has also been considered a strong supporter of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.
Reporters without Borders ranks Egypt 159 out of 180 ranked countries in the world for press freedom.
The Associated Press contributed to this report