CAIRO – An Egyptian court Monday convicted three Al-Jazeera journalists and sentenced them to seven years in prison on terrorism-related charges after a trial dismissed by rights groups as a politically motivated sham. The verdict brought a landslide of international condemnation and calls for the newly elected president to intervene.
The ruling stunned the defendants and their families, many of whom had hoped their loved ones would be released because of international pressure.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who a day earlier had discussed the case in a meeting with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, denounced the verdict as “chilling and Draconian.”
The unprecedented trial of journalists on terror charges was tied up in the government's fierce crackdown on Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood since the ouster last year of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi by el-Sissi, then the army chief.
Prosecutors had accused the three – Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohammed – of promoting or belonging to the Brotherhood and of falsifying their coverage of protests by Morsi's supporters to hurt Egypt's security.
The journalists say they are being prosecuted for doing their job and are pawns in the political rivalry.
During the 5-month trial, prosecutors presented no evidence backing the charges, at times citing random video footage found with the defendants that even the judge dismissed as irrelevant.