The three, who all deny the charge, include Australian Peter
Greste, Al Jazeera's Kenya-based correspondent, and
Canadian-Egyptian national Mohamed Fahmy, Cairo bureau chief of Al
The third defendant, Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, received an
additional three-year jail sentence on a separate charge involving
possession of ammunition.
There was a loud gasp in the courtroom as the verdicts were read
out. Shaken and near tears, Greste's brother Michael said: "This is
terribly devastating. I am stunned, dumbstruck. I've no other
The three men had looked upbeat as they entered the courtroom in
handcuffs, waving at family members who had earlier told journalists
they expected them to be acquitted.
The three were detained in late December and charged with helping a
"terrorist organisation" by publishing lies that harmed the national
interest and supplying money, equipment and information to a group
of 17 Egyptians.
All three journalists have been held at Egypt's notorious Tora
Prison for six months, in a case that has drawn criticism from
Western governments and human rights groups.
The remaining 17 defendants faced charges of belonging to a
"terrorist organisation", an apparent reference to the Muslim
Brotherhood, which has been protesting against the government since
the army toppled Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in July.
Two of the 17 were acquitted, including Anas Beltagi the son of a
senior Muslim Brotherhood official who is now in jail.
Four were also sentenced to seven years in jail and a further 11
were sentenced in absentia to 10 years in jail.
Western governments and rights groups have voiced concern over
freedom of expression in Egypt since Mursiís ouster and the
crackdown has raised questions about Egypt's democratic credentials
three years after an uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak after 30 years
in power and raised hopes of greater freedoms.
JOURNALISM ON TRIAL
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
discussed the political transition the country.
"This is a deeply disappointing result. The Egyptian people have
expressed over the past three years their wish for Egypt to be a
democracy. Without freedom of the press there is no foundation for
democracy" Britain's ambassador to Egypt, James Watt, told Reuters
after the verdict.
[to top of second column]
Australia's ambassador Ralph King also said his prime minister would
make his disappointment clear after entreaties made by his
government in recent days appeared to make little difference.
Egyptian officials have said the case is not linked to freedom of
expression and that the journalists raised suspicions by operating
without proper accreditation. The trial began on Feb. 20. The
journalists, known in the Egyptian media as "The Marriott Cell"
because they worked from a hotel of the U.S.-based chain, appeared
in metal court cages.
Qatar-based television network Al Jazeera has previously said the
accusations are absurd.
One of the defence lawyers, Shaaban Saeed, said there had been no
respect for due process during the trial.
"We were expecting innocence but there is no justice in this
country. Politics is what judges," Saeed said. The government has
declared the Brotherhood a terrorist group. The Brotherhood says it
is a peaceful organization. The Gulf state of Qatar, which funds Al
Jazeera, backs the Muslim Brotherhood. Its ties with Egypt have been
strained since Sisi ousted Mursi last year after mass protests
against his troubled one-year rule.
Al Jazeera's Cairo offices have been closed since July 3 when
security forces raided them hours after Mursi's ouster.
"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, Human Rights
Watch's Middle East and North Africa director.
(Removes reference to president in par 14)
(Writing by Lin Noueihed; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Andrew
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