Al Jazeera journalists sentenced to three years for 'spreading false news' in Egyptian retrial

Mohammed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohammed were convicted in Cairo

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The Independent Online

Three Al Jazeera journalists have been convicted for "spreading false news" and jailed for three years following a retrial in Egypt.

Canadian national Mohammed Fahmy, Australian journalist Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed were convicted on Saturday as friends and family watched in anguish in a court in Cairo.

Mr Fahmy and Mr Mohamed were in court to hear the verdict. Mr Greste, who was deported to Australia earlier this year following intense campaigning from family and international observers, tweeted his distress over the verdict.

The three men are accused of aiding the banned political group the Muslim Brotherhood. All deny the charges. In January of this year, the original sentence was overturned and the men were freed awaiting a retrial.

Handing down a verdict for the retrial, the judge sentenced Mr Greste and Mr Fahmy to three years but gave Mr Mohamed an additional six months. He claimed the men were not registered journalists and had been operating from Cairo without a licence.

Al Jazeera's English acting director-general Mostefa Souag said the court verdict "defies logic and common sense".

Mr Fahmy's wife Mawra was distraught over the sentence. "I'm all alone. I don't know what to do - I never expected him to be jailed."

"I just want justice," Mrs Fahmy told reporters as she sobbed in court.

Mr Fahmy and Mr Mohammed were immediately lead from court following the verdict. Reporters there said that neither men were allowed a moment to say goodbye to their families.

It remains unclear how Mr Fahmy and Mr Mohamed's sentences will be served. Both men were in prison for a year prior to being freed in January.

Amal Clooney, who is representing the journalists, told reporters at court that "what happened here is an outrage" and added an "indepedent court would have acquitted them fully."

 

Human rights organisations have also condemned the decision.

"This is a farcical verdict which strikes at the heart of freedom of expression in Egypt," Philip Luther, Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

Mr Luther said the charges against the journalists were "always baseless and politicised" and that they should never have been arrested in the first place.

"The fact that two of these journalists are now facing time in jail following two grossly unfair trials makes a mockery of justice in Egypt. 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," he continued.

The case started in 2013 when Egyptian authorities raided the hotel suite used by Al Jazeera staff.

Authorities claim the three men were part of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, linked to former leader Mohamed Morsi, and had aired falsified footage aimed at damaging national security. They were sentenced to ten years in prison in July 2014, but released in January of this year following a lengthy appeal process.

Since Morsi was ousted in General el-Sisi's coup, press freedoms have been significantly curtailed with many journalists reported harassment and intimidation at the hands of government officials and security forces.

Almost instantly following the verdict the hashtag 'FreeAJStaff' began trending globally on Twitter, with many journalists tweeting their outrage over the Cairo court's decision.

Mr Mohamed and Mr Fahmy, who have been on bail since January, now have the opportunity to appeal the verdict once more before Egypt's Court of Cassation.

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