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Update: Harsh sentences for Al Jazeera journalists

Fahmy, Greste and Mohmed handed long-term jail sentences

Al-Jazeera news channel's Australian journalist Peter Greste (L) and his colleagues, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy (C) and Egyptian Baher Mohamed , listen to the verdict inside the defendants cage during their trial for allegedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood on June 23, 2014 at the police institute near Cairo's Tora prison. The Egyptian court sentenced the three Al-Jazeera journalists to jail terms ranging from seven to 10 years after accusing them of aiding the blacklisted Brotherhood.  Since the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, the authorities have been incensed by the Qatari network's coverage of their deadly crackdown on his supporters.  (AFP PHOTO)
Al-Jazeera news channel’s Australian journalist Peter Greste (L) and his colleagues, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy (C) and Egyptian Baher Mohamed , listen to the verdict inside the defendants cage during their trial for allegedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood on June 23, 2014 at the police institute near Cairo’s Tora prison.

Three Al Jazeera journalists were handed harsh prison sentences on Monday morning in the Cairo Criminal Court based on accusations of aiding a terrorist group, tarnishing Egypt’s image abroad, threatening national security, and “creating a terrorist media network”.

Of the 20 defendants on trial, the crux of the case rested on three Al Jazeera journalists: Cairo Bureau Chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, correspondent Peter Greste, and producer Baher Mohamed.

Fahmy and Greste were each handed seven years in a maximum security prison, while Mohamed was given seven years, plus an extra three years for being in possession of a spent bullet casing.

Dubbed the “Marriott Cell” by the prosecution and Egyptian media, Fahmy and Greste were arrested on the evening of 29 December at the Zamalek Marriott, where they were using two suites as a base of operation after Al Jazeera had faced repeated raids, arrests and confiscation of equipment.

Mohamed was arrested the same evening from his home in suburban Cairo.

Five students, accused of being Muslim Brotherhood members, were arrested days after the journalists from an apartment in Cairo’s Moqattam neighbourhood and added to the defendants in the trial.

One of the accused students was Anas Beltagy, son of Mohamed Beltagy, General Secretary of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party. Beltagy was acquitted of all charges.

In an earlier session, the prosecution asked the judge to apply the maximum sentencing guidelines if a guilty verdict is reached, which would have meant 15 years each for Fahmy and Mohamed, and seven years for Greste.

Greste was the only defendant who received the maximum sentence.

Greste, an Australian, was one of four foreign defendants named in the case. Fahmy, recognized by the court only as an Egyptian, also holds Canadian citizenship.

The other foreigners, being tried in absentia, are Britons Sue Turton and Dominic Kane, who have previously worked for Al Jazeera in Cairo, but were not in the country at the time of arrest. Dutch journalist Rena Netjes was also a defendant, but has never worked for Al Jazeera, and was allowed to leave Egypt following discussions between the Dutch embassy and the foreign ministry.

All eleven defendants tried in absentia were handed 10 year sentences

The prosecution, on multiple occasions, aired video footage that was unrelated to Egypt, showed clips from networks other than Al Jazeera, and played sound recordings that were inaudible, presenting it as evidence.

“Previous court dates have bizarrely included the prosecution showing footage of Sky News Arabia tourism reports, BBC podcasts, songs by Gotye, photo-shopped images of Mohammed Fahmy, Peter Greste’s family photos, and some of Greste’s award-winning work from East Africa,” said Al Jazeera in a statement after a 16 June hearing.

On another occasion, three audio/visual witnesses for the prosecution were unable to recall the footage presented to them by the investigators. They could not identify if the footage constituted a crime, and one witness directly contradicted his written affidavit, and indicated the prosecutor added additional footage after it was viewed by the witnesses.

In a separate case, after 306 days in prison without charges and 147 days on hunger strike, Al Jazeera Arabic journalist Abdallah Elshamy was released from prison on 17 June. Elshamy was arrested while covering the violent dispersal of the pro-Mohamed Morsi sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adaweya Square last August.

In previous interviews, Al-Jazeera said it no longer has staff members based in Egypt.

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  • Marco

    Convicted on farcical evidence. Shame on you Egypt.

  • Biff Jay

    Lol, 3 years for…. possession of a bullet. Wow

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  • Not_so_serious

    Journalism is not a crime !
    Free the Australian and other foreign journalists.
    Apologies to the good people of Egypt but your Government are now considered an appalling regime by many in Australia. The Egyptian Government is a disgraceful institution for allowing this corrupt behaviour and perhaps they should have all foreign aid suspended if they want be isolated from the world.

  • Guest

    Canada has a right to tell Egypt what to do because they are bigger and more powerful.

    • Minymina

      Are you seriously using Canada as a threat? Don’t make me laugh. Canada should mind it’s own bussness. Dispute having dual citizenship, the al Jazeera journalist is first and for most Egyptian.

      • sam enslow

        Canada will do what it wants. What most Egyptians think doesn’t control what the rest of the world thinks. If Canada were to witholdits wheat from the world market(a thing it should do for its own reasons), the increases in the world price of wheat would place Egypt in great turmoil. Maybe Egypt should start facing its realities rather than worrying about its “Pride.” Many countries would be happy to work WITH Egypt, but Egypt must be willing to make the necessary changes for progress to be made. Of course, Egypt has a perfect right to go it alone.

  • George W. Bush

    WOW!! can you imagine if we did things like that in the USA? Everybody at Fox News would be in locked away for life..because they blatantly spin and lie about the truth….

    • sam enslow

      Remember FOX (FAUX) NEWS went to court and wonthe right to lie. Freedom of the Press is absolute or non-existant.
      The justifications for these legal theatrics is that the judicary is independent. It reminds me of the old saying: Do not piss on my leg and then tell me it is raining. I guess judges are not to follow Egypt’s constitution.

  • Harry Clark

    You are all living a lie

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  • LiberalRedneck

    I am so done with propping up Egypt, Saudia Arabia and the rest of them. They want to have it out. Fine. Let them. We will deal with whover is left standing. Hopefully, that will not be many.
    This part of the world doesn’t want to be join the ranks of the cvilized world. They want to go back to the 3rd centuy and we should let them. You can’t fix fundamentalist religious stupidity. You can only try to contain it and keep it from spreading. Eduaction, wealth equality and democracy are the antidotes to fundamentalist fanatics of every stripe.
    But as the American Tea Party and southern evenagelical christian movements prove, even in the most favorable environments for enlighenment and progressive thought, the regressive religious gene is hard to kill and an ever present threat to the stability of the planet and all life on it.
    We need to concenterate on fixing the regressive religious ills of the enlightened western world and let the middle east war itself back to irrelevaence.

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  • maddeningly

    Egypt wouldn’t know a democratic notion if it hit them in the face.

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