CAIRO, Egypt — An Egyptian court on Monday convicted three journalists from Al-Jazeera English, including an Egyptian-Canadian, and sentenced them to seven years in prison each on terrorism-related charges in a case that has brought an outcry from human rights groups.
The sentences were handed down against Egyptian-Canadian acting Cairo bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, Australian correspondent Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, who also received an extra three years in prison on separate charges.
“I swear they will pay for this,” Fahmy shouted angrily from the defendants’ cage after the sentences were announced. Greste raised his fists in the air.
“They just ruined a family,” said Fahmy’s brother Adel, who was attending the session. He said they would appeal the verdict but added that he had little faith in the system. “Everything is corrupt,” he said.
Another option Fahmy’s family had earlier said that could be considered was a request for a presidential pardon.
Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed were arrested in December in a raid on the Cairo hotel room they were using as an office, as part of a sweeping crackdown on supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi.
They were accused of supporting Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which the authorities have declared a terrorist organization. They also face charges of fabricating footage to undermine Egypt’s national security and make it appear the country was facing civil war. The prosecution has offered little evidence to back up the charges against them.
The three and their supporters have said they were simply doing their jobs as journalists, covering the wave of protests led by the Brotherhood against the military-backed government installed after Morsi’s ouster on July 3 by then-army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is now the president. The police crackdown on the protests has killed hundreds and put thousands more in prison.
There were 17 other co-defendants in the case. Among them, two British journalists and a Dutch journalist who were not in Egypt and eight others being tried in absentia each received 10-year prison sentences. Two of them were acquitted, including the son of Mohammed el-Beltagy, a senior figure in the Brotherhood. Most of the co-defendants were students, arrested separately and accused of giving footage to the journalists.
Attending the session, Canadian Ambassador David Drake said there are many questions over the verdict.
“We are very disappointed,” he said. “We are digesting this… We have to put our faith in the judicial system. We don’t understand this particular verdict.”
British Ambassador James Watt also said he was disappointed, adding, “Freedom of expression is fundamental to any democracy.”
The managing director of Qatar-based Al-Jazeera English, Al Anstey, said in a statement that “not a shred of evidence was found to support the extraordinary and false charges against them.”
“To have detained them for 177 days is an outrage. To have sentenced them defies logic, sense, and any semblance of justice,” he said.
Fahmy, who covered stories for the New York Times and CNN before working for Al-Jazeera, was the most outspoken over the course of his trial.
His family, who moved to Canada in 1991, also railed against the prosecution, saying it was clear that the charges against the journalists were “ridiculous.”
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has met with Fahmy’s family and told them he discussed Fahmy’s case with his Egyptian counterpart. But Canadian officials had warned the family that the journalist’s dual citizenship placed limits on how much they could do.