Egyptian courts have sentenced three journalists to three years jail time for allegedly covering “false” news on the country. The move to jail the three has sparked international condemnation for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who took over after the military ousted president Mohammed Morsi in 2013.
The crackdown on journalists has been heralded as a return to the dark days for the country that is yet to find stability.
Egyptian courts on Saturday sentenced three journalists: Canadian Mohammed Fahmy, Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed and Australian journalist Peter Greste to three years imprisonment for allegedly broadcasting false news that harmed Egypt. Greste was tried in absentia as he was deported earlier this year.
A number of co defendants accused of working for Al Jazeera also received similar sentences.
The three were arrested in 2013 when the military raided an upmarket hotel at the time used by Al Jazeera to report on the Egyptian revolution. They were consequently charged with being members of the Muslim brotherhood, a group that supported ousted president Morsi.
The three denied the charges but were detained and arraigned in court. At the time, Qatar, which owns news service Al Jazeera, was a huge supporter of Morsi and the Muslim brotherhood.
During their trial, video clips were aired showing an animal hospital with donkeys and later on about Christian life in the country. The defense dismissed the videos as irrelevant, something the courts also held. However, the three were convicted in June 2014. Gretse and Fahmy were handed seven years while Mohammed was handed ten.
The verdict was severely criticized by the international community, leading to Egypt’s Court of Cassation’s order of a retrial. Both Fahmy and Mohammed were released on bail.
Many had thought a retrial would result in the acquittal of the three but as the judgement was read, such was not the case.
Fahmy’s blood brother, Abdel said, “I'm shocked. Terribly shocked. We waited for an acquittal and then found ourselves stuck again in the case. This is illogical."
Gretse described the sentences as “devastating” before adding, "We did nothing wrong. The prosecution presented no evidence that we did anything wrong and so for us to be convicted as terrorists on no evidence at all is frankly outrageous."
Al Jazeera termed the ruling as marking a “dark day for the Egyptian judiciary” where "Rather than defend liberty and the free and fair media, the Egyptian judiciary has compromised its own independence."
Australian authorities expressed “dismay” over the outcome while Canadian officials called for the “immediate return” of Fahmy.
A statement from the EU termed the sentences as a "setback for freedom of expression in Egypt".
Through sentencing the three journalists, Egypt has shown president al-Sisi’s intolerance to radical Islam and his iron fisted hold of the country’s judiciary.