Three journalists employed by Qatar-backed news agency Al Jazeera were given stiff prison sentences by an Egyptian court for reporting false news and aiding the Muslim Brotherhood, among other charges.

Two of the three reporters  – Peter Greste, the company’s East African bureau chief, and  Mohamed Fahmy – were sentenced to seven years in prison. The third, Baher Mohammed, was given 10 years in total, the last three being added on because, the court said, the journalist was in possession of ammunition – a spent bullet case he had picked up of the ground, Al Jazeera said in an online dispatch. Other Al Jazeera journalists were tried in absentia.

The trio’s cause has been picked up by free-speech advocates and supporters of a free press around the world.

In a statement, Al Anstey, Al Jazeera English managing director, 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 said. “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 recognized by Egypt.”