Egyptian court sentences 3 Al Jazeera journalists to prison

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CAIRO –An Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced three Al Jazeera journalists to three years in prison after a lengthy retrial.

Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were present for the proceedings. Australian Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste, who was freed in February 2015, was sentenced in absentia.

The journalists were charged with aiding a terrorist organization, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was outlawed in Egypt after the army overthrew President Mohamed Morsy amid mass protests against his rule in 2013.

The journalists have said they were just doing their jobs, covering all sides of the stories in Egypt.

Al Jazeera Media Network’s acting director general Mostefa Souag condemned the verdict, saying it “defies logic and common sense” and follows a heavily politicized and unfair trial process.

The court’s ruling means Fahmy and Mohamed must return to prison, he said.

“Today’s verdict is yet another deliberate attack on press freedom. 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.”

All three were convicted last year on charges that included conspiring with the Brotherhood, spreading false news and endangering national security, but they have maintained their innocence.

The three appealed their convictions, and in January their attorneys announced that Egypt’s highest court had granted them a retrial.

The reasoning for the judge’s verdict has not yet been released.

Greste: ‘This is unjust’

Greste voiced his anger over the verdict via Twitter and in an interview with Al Jazeera English, for whom he was working when he was arrested.

“The fact is that this is a wrong. This is unjust. This is unethical. This is immoral on so many levels,” he told the channel.

“We are not terrorists. We did not collude with any terrorist organization. We did not broadcast any false news.”

Both Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed will be able to appeal the verdicts, but Greste will not because he was not physically present in court.

If Egypt issues an international arrest warrant, “as is standard in these cases,” Greste pointed out, he won’t be able to travel to any country that has an extradition treaty with Egypt.

“Effectively that makes a mess of my career as a foreign correspondent,” he said.

Greste insisted that the judgment was “not based on evidence: period — we need to call on international pressure, governments, diplomats around the world to make it clear to Egypt that it cannot make these kinds of judgments. It cannot be allowed to get away with this. It must accept the rule of law if it’s going to get international support.”

Rights group: ‘Farcical verdict’

Amnesty International also condemned the court’s ruling, saying the charges against the journalists were baseless and politicized.

“This is a farcical verdict which strikes at the heart of freedom of expression in Egypt,” said Philip Luther, the rights group’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Today’s verdict must be overturned immediately — Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed should be allowed to walk free without conditions. We consider them to be prisoners of conscience, jailed solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

Fahmy and Mohamed can appeal the verdict before the Court of Cassation, a higher court, the rights group said.

Amnesty International also urged the Egyptian authorities to facilitate Fahmy’s request for deportation from Egypt to Canada.

Fahmy gave up his Egyptian citizenship in hopes of benefiting from a new law allowing for the deportation of foreign defendants but, unlike in the case of Greste, no presidential decree has been issued for him.

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