An Egyptian court on Monday convicted three Al Jazeera journalists and sentenced them to seven years in prison each on terrorism-related charges, in a case that has brought an outcry from rights groups.
The sentences were handed down against Australian correspondent Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian acting Cairo bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy, and Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed, who also received an extra three years in prison on separate charges.
“I swear they will pay for this,” Fahmy shouted angrily from the defendants’ cage after the sentences were announced. Greste 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.
The judge also handed 10-year sentences to two British journalists and a Dutch journalist who were not in Egypt and being tried in absentia. Two defendants among 14 others on trial in the case were acquitted, including the son of Mohammed el-Beltagy, a senior figure in the Muslim Brotherhood.
In reaction to the verdict, Australia said it was "appalled" at the jail term given to Greste, saying it undermined Cairo's claim to be transitioning to democracy.
"The Australian government is shocked at the verdict," said Foreign Minister Julie Bishop of the seven-year sentence imposed on the Australian for aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood.
"We are deeply dismayed that a sentence has been imposed and appalled at the severity of it.
"It is hard to credit that the court in this case could have reached this conclusion," she added.
"The Australian government simply cannot understand it based on the evidence that was presented in the case."
The severe sentence came despite Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaking to Egypt's new leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi over the weekend.
Abbott said he had been encouraged about their conversation on Greste.
In a similar development, Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was summoning Egypt's ambassador over the prison sentences handed down to the journalists.
"I have instructed officials to summon the Egyptian Ambassador to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office today," Hague said in a statement.
A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "completely appalled" by the verdicts.
Besides, the Netherlands also summoned the Egyptian ambassador over Cairo's heavy sentencing and will raise the issue with the EU.
"I have summoned the Egyptian ambassador to the ministry and will raise this matter with my European Union colleagues in Luxembourg," Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said in a statement, adding that Dutch journalist Rena Netjes, who was tried in absentia, "did not get a fair trial".
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera network also slammed as "unjust" the court decision.
"We condemn... this kind of unjust verdict," the network's chief Mustafa Sawaq told the satellite news channel after the verdict of the Cairo court.
Greste, Fahmy and Mohammed were arrested in December in a raid on the Cairo hotel room they were using as an office, as part of a sweeping crackdown on Islamist supporters of ousted President Mohammed Mursi.
They were accused of supporting Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which the authorities have declared a terrorist organization. They also face charges of fabricating footage to undermine Egypt’s national security and make it appear the country was facing civil war. The prosecution has offered little evidence to back up the charges against them.
The three and their supporters have said they were simply doing their jobs as journalists, covering the wave of protests led by the Brotherhood against the military-backed government installed after Mursi’s ousted on July 3 by then-army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is now the president.
(With Reuters and AFP)SHOW MORE