An Egyptian judge on Monday sentenced three Al Jazeera journalists to prison terms of seven to 10 years for allegedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and reporting "false news," provoking an uproar among human rights and free press advocates and shock in the courtroom.
"This ruling means that journalism is a crime in Egypt," wrote journalist Sharif Kouddous, tweeting from the courtroom.
Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy were each sentenced to seven years in jail and Baher Mohamed was handed a ten year sentence. All of these journalists work for Al Jazeera English.
Fahmy was reportedly beaten in prison, resulting in a severe shoulder injury.
Family members and supporters of the journalists reacted with shock and outrage to the sentences, which are widely viewed as part of the government crackdown on a free press.
Wafaa Bassiouny, Fahmy’s mother, shouted and cried as she stormed out of the courtroom, according to independent Egyptian publication Mada Masr.
“There is no hope in the judicial system. This is a screwed up system and this whole government is incompetent,” said Fahmy’s brother, as quoted by Mada Masr. “Tell them, they’ve ruined a family.”
Several Egyptian students were also handed seven year prison terms, on the grounds that they had collaborated with the journalists.
Several other Al Jazeera journalists were tried in absentia and handed ten year sentences.
“This is a devastating verdict for the men and their families, and a dark day for media freedom in Egypt, when journalists are being locked up and branded criminals or ‘terrorists’ simply for doing their job,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International in a statement released Monday.
All of those sentenced, who have already been jailed for six months, deny any wrongdoing, and lawyers have vowed an appeal.
The sentences came just one day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Cairo and vowed support for the regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, including renewal of military aid.
The ruling follows Egypt's release last week of hunger striking Al Jazeera journalist Abdullah Elshamy after he was held for 10 months in prison without trial or charge.
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