Listening to the ruling at a court in Cairo are (l-r) Peter
Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed. REUTERS/Asmaa
Three Al Jazeera journalists have been sentenced to seven
years in jail by an Egyptian judge for aiding a "terrorist
organisation", drawing criticism from Western governments who
said the verdict undermined freedom of expression.
The three, who all denied the charge of working with the now
banned Muslim Brotherhood, included Australian Peter Greste
and Canadian-Egyptian national Mohamed Fahmy, Cairo bureau
chief of Al Jazeera English.
The third defendant, Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, was
given an extra three years for possessing a single bullet at
the hearing attended by Western diplomats, some of whose
governments summoned Egypt's ambassadors over the case.
The men have been held at Egypt's notorious Tora Prison for
six months, with the case becoming a rallying point for
rights groups and news organsiations around the world.
They were detained in late December and charged with helping
"a terrorist group" - a reference to the Muslim brotherhood -
by broadcasting lies that harmed national security and
supplying money, equipment and information to a group of
The Brotherhood was banned and declared a terrorist group
after the army deposed elected Islamist president Mohamed
Mursi in July following mass protests against his rule. The
Brotherhood says it is a peaceful organisation.
Al Jazeera, whose Qatari owners back the Brotherhood and have
been at odds with Egypt's leadership since he was ousted,
said the ruling defied "logic, sense and any semblance of
"There is only one sensible outcome now. For the verdict to
be overturned, and justice to be recognised by Egypt," Al
Jazeera English managing director Al Anstey said in a
The ruling came a day after U.S. Secretary of State John
Kerry met newly elected Egyptian President Abdel Fattah
al-Sisi in Cairo and raised the issue of the journalists.
On Monday, Kerry said he called Egypt's foreign minister to
register his "serious displeasure" over the "chilling and
The courtroom quickly descended into chaos as the verdict was
read out. Shaken and near tears, Greste's brother Michael
said: "This is terribly devastating. I am stunned,
dumbstruck. I've no other words."
The three men had looked upbeat as they entered the courtroom
in handcuffs, waving at relatives who had earlier told
journalists they expected them to be freed for lack of
One Dutch woman and two Britons were sentenced to 10 years in
absentia on the same charges of aiding a "terrorist group".
Judicial sources told Reuters the verdicts could be appealed
before a higher court and a pardon was still possible.
Egypt's public prosecutor last week ordered the release of
another Al Jazeera journalist, Abdullah al-Shamy, on health
grounds after he spent more than 130 days on hunger strike.
Western governments and rights groups have voiced concern
over freedom of expression in Egypt since Mursi was ousted.
The crackdown has reinforced doubts about Egypt's democratic
credentials three years after an uprising toppled Hosni
Mubarak and raised hopes of greater freedoms.
The case comes after a similar outcry over mass death
sentences being handed down to Brotherhood supporters.
"Egypt's reputation, and especially the reputation of its
judiciary as an independent institution, are at stake," U.N.
human rights chief Navi Pillay said. "There is a risk that
miscarriage of justice is becoming the norm in Egypt."
Britain, whose ambassador was one of several Western
diplomats to attend the hearing, said it was summoning the
Egyptian ambassador to protest about Monday's ruling.
"Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of a stable and
prosperous society," Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
The Dutch foreign minister also summoned Egypt's ambassador.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said her government
was "deeply dismayed that any sentence was imposed" and was
"appalled by the severity of it".
Despite Kerry's condemnation on Monday, U.S. concerns have
been balanced by an acknowledgement of the importance of
Egypt as a longstanding strategic partner in the Middle East.
As well as discussing the transition to democracy, Kerry said
on Sunday Egypt would be given aid in the form of Apache
helicopters to use against militants in the Sinai peninsula
that borders Israel, highlighting the multiple interests
Washington is juggling.
Amnesty International called it a "dark day for media
freedom" and other rights groups also condemned the verdicts.
"These... verdicts are a stark admission that in today's
Egypt, simply practicing professional journalism is a crime
and that the new constitution's guarantees of free expression
are not worth the paper they are written on," said Sarah Leah
Whitson from Human Rights Watch.
Egyptian officials have said the case is not linked to
freedom of expression and that the journalists raised
suspicions by operating without proper accreditation.
Many Egyptians see Al Jazeera as a force determined to
destabilise the country, a view that has been encouraged in
the local media, which has labelled the journalists "The
Marriott Cell" because they worked from a hotel of the
A video that appeared on a pro-government channel and spread
online, reinforced the view that the journalists had sinister
intents, showing their arrest in their hotel room, with
close-ups of their computers, cameras and communications
equipment allegedly used to broadcast lies aimed at
Al Jazeera's Cairo offices have been closed since July 3 when
security forces raided them hours after Mursi was ousted and
criticism of the government and army has virtually vanished
from the gamut of Egyptian media since then.
In total, 20 people were sentenced on Monday. They included
at least 14 Egyptian defendants who faced charges of
belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Of those, two were acquitted including Anas al-Beltagi, the
son of a senior Brotherhood official who is in jail. Four
recieved seven-year sentences and the rest 10 years in