CAIRO — An Egyptian court convicted three Al-Jazeera journalists and sentenced them to seven years in prison each on terrorism-related charges in a verdict Monday, and a chorus of voices denounced the ruling as a blow to freedom of expression.
The verdicts against Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohammed came after a five-month trial that Amnesty International described as a "sham." The group called Monday's rulings "a dark day for media freedom in Egypt."
The three, who have been detained since December, contend they are being prosecuted simply for doing their jobs as journalists, covering Islamist protests against the ouster last year of President Mohammed Morsi. The trial has been widely seen as political, part of a fight between the government and the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network, which authorities accuse of bias toward the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi. The network denies any bias.
In an unprecedented trial of journalists on terrorism charges, prosecutors charged them with supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been declared a terrorist group, and with fabricating footage to damage Egypt's security. But observers of the trial said the prosecution presented no evidence to support the charges. Three other foreign journalists — two Britons who worked for Al-Jazeera and a Dutch freelance reporter who had no connection to Al-Jazeera but once met Fahmy for tea in his makeshift office at a luxury hotel in Cairo — were sentenced to 10 years in absentia.