Three Al Jazeera journalists accused of supporting Muslim Brotherhood sentenced to seven years by Egyptian court

An Egyptian court has sentenced three journalists to seven years in prison each on terrorism-related charges.

Al Jazeera Australian correspondent Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian acting Cairo bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy, and Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed were found guilty and sentenced today.

Mohammed was sentenced to three extra years in prison on separate charges.

The three were arrested in December as part of a sweeping crackdown on Islamist supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi.

The trio were accused of supporting Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which the authorities have declared a terrorist organisation. They also faced charges of fabricating footage to undermine Egypt's national security and make it appear the country was facing civil war. The prosecution offered little evidence to back up the charges against them.

The journalists and their supporters have said they were simply doing their jobs, covering the wave of protests led by the Brotherhood against the military-backed government installed after Morsi was ousted on 3 July by then-army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is now the president.

The police crackdown on the protests has killed hundreds and put thousands more in prison.

"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 against 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 Sue Turton and Dominic Kane and the Dutch journalist Rena Netjes, who were not in Egypt but 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.

British ambassador James Watt, who was in court, said he was "very disappointed" by the verdict. "Freedom of expression is fundamental to any democracy," he said.

The other defendants were mainly students, arrested separately, accused of providing the Al Jazeera journalists with footage along with a variety of other charges, including belonging to the Brotherhood.

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: "The NUJ condemns in the strongest terms these sentences meted on journalists who were merely doing their job. This is an outrageous decision and travesty of justice made by a kangaroo court.

"Al Jazeera has rejected the charges against its journalists and maintains their innocence. This is a brutal regime which is attacking and arresting many journalists to attempt to silence them and prevent them from reporting events.

"The British government must immediately signal its opposition to this verdict and do all it can to have the sentences overturned. The NUJ is calling on all media organisations to register their protest in support of colleagues at Al Jazeera and all the Egyptian journalists who have been attacked and arrested by their country's authorities.

"Governments must not be allowed to deny journalists, wherever they are, the right to be able to report independently and in safety. The freedom of journalists is an integral part of any democratic process."

Executive director of the Society of Editors Bob Satchwell said: "It is outrageous that journalists can be hauled before the courts and jailed simply for informing the public. Journalists are not terrorists. By reporting the claims of terrorists they help to expose the arguments of those who seek to undermine democratic society."  

Picture (Reuters): Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed stand behind bars at a court in Cairo 1 June, 2014

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