Egypt court sentences Al Jazeera reporters to three years in jail

Three Al Jazeera TV journalists were sentenced to three years in prison for 'operating without a press license and broadcasting material harmful to Egypt'

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An Egyptian court sentenced three Al Jazeera TV journalists to three years in prison on Saturday for operating without a press license and broadcasting material harmful to Egypt, a case that has triggered an international outcry.

The verdict in a retrial was issued against Mohamed Fahmy, a naturalized Canadian who has given up his Egyptian citizenship, Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian, and Australian Peter Greste, who was deported in February.

Judge Hassan Farid said the defendants, dubbed the "Marriott Cell" by the local press because they worked out of a hotel belonging to that chain, "are not journalists and not members of the press syndicate" and broadcast with unlicensed equipment.

The three denied all charges and rights advocates said their arrest was part of a wider crackdown on free speech since the military overthrew President Mohamed Mursi, a senior Muslim Brotherhood figure, in mid-2013 following mass unrest.

The three men were originally sentenced to between seven to 10 years in prison on charges including spreading lies to help a terrorist organization, a reference to the Brotherhood.

Fahmy and Mohamed, who had been released on bail in February after over a year in jail, were taken back into custody after Saturday's verdict, according to Fahmy's wife Marwa Omara. She was in tears after the verdict was read out.

Al Jazeera condemned the decision as a "deliberate attack on press freedom".

The Qatar-based broadcaster also said in a statement released just minutes after the decision was announced in a Cairo court that the verdict "defies logic and freedom" and it would not rest until its staff "are freed".

"Today's verdict is yet another deliberate attack on press freedom," it said.

"It is a dark day for the Egyptian judiciary; rather than defend liberties and a free and fair media they have compromised their independence for political reasons."

It added: "The whole case has been politicised and has not been conducted in a free and fair manner."

The acting managing director of Al Jazeera English, Giles Trendle, speaking on air on Saturday morning added that the verdict was "disgraceful, disgusting and we are shocked".

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