An Egyptian court convicted three Al-Jazeera journalists and sentenced them to seven years in prison each on terrorism-related charges in a verdict today that stunned their families and was quickly denounced as a blow to freedom of expression. International pressure mounted on Egypt's president to pardon the three.
The verdicts against Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohammed came after a 5-month trial that Amnesty International described as a "sham," calling today'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. Three other foreign journalists, two Britons and a Dutch citizen, were sentenced to 10 years in absentia.
Media groups have called the trial 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.
Prosecutors charged them with supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been declared a terrorist group, and with fabricating footage to undermine Egypt's national security and make it appear the country was facing civil war. But the prosecution presented little evidence in the trial.
"I swear they will pay for this," Fahmy, who was Al-Jazeera English's acting Cairo bureau chief, shouted angrily from the defendants' cage after the sentences were announced in the Cairo court. Fahmy is also accused of belonging to the Brotherhood.
Greste, an award-winning correspondent, silently raised a clinched fist in the air.
"They just ruined a family," said Fahmy's brother Adel, who was attending the session. His mother and finance broke down in tears. "Who did he kill" to get this sentence? Fahmy's mother, Wafa Bassiouni shouted.
Fahmy's brother said they would appeal the verdict but added that he had little faith in the system. "Everything is corrupt," he said. Greste's brother Andrew said he was "gutted" and also vowed to appeal.
The three received sentences of seven years each in a maximum security prison. Mohammed, the team's producer, received an extra three years because of additional charges of possession of ammunition.