Egypt sentences al-Jazeera trio to at least seven years' jail

The verdicts were "feared but expected" by relatives, reports Christian Fraser

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Three al-Jazeera journalists accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood have been jailed for seven years in Egypt.

A court in Cairo convicted Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed of spreading false news and supporting the now banned Islamist group. The trio had denied the charges.

Eleven defendants tried in absentia, including three foreign journalists, received 10-year sentences.

The trial has caused an international outcry amid claims it was politicised.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told reporters on Monday she was "bitterly disappointed" by the outcome. Greste, a former BBC journalist, is an Australian citizen.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "completely appalled" and the UK Foreign Office has summoned the Egyptian ambassador over the guilty verdicts. Two of the journalists convicted in absentia are British.

Peter Greste's parents were being filmed as they heard the news

Correspondents say evidence put forward earlier in court did nothing to support the serious charges brought.

The judge was shown photographs from Mr Greste's family holiday, a Sky Arabia report on cruelty to horses and a video of a news conference in Nairobi.

Baher Mohamed was sentenced to a further three years in jail on a separate charge involving possession of "unlicensed ammunition".

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Christian Fraser, BBC News, Cairo

Peter Greste has spent six months in a 4m (13ft) cell with his two al-Jazeera colleagues, locked down for 23 hours a day with only a small window for light. The Tora prison is a "hell hole" says Greste's brother, Michael. "But he is strong and he will survive."

That resilience was on show when the prisoners came into court. They waved at friends and family and hugged each other, hoping their ordeal was now ending.

The judge, wearing sunglasses, looked unmoved by the scores of cameras there to record the verdict. Last week he sentenced 14 people to death, including the father of one of the students now standing in the cage.

Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop: ''I am bitterly disappointed''

As he heard the verdict, Peter Greste punched the cage in frustration. Mohamed Fahmy screamed in defiance. "He needs surgery, he has done nothing wrong," his mother wailed. Fahmy spent the first few weeks of his detention sleeping on the floor with a dislocated shoulder.

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In a statement, al-Jazeera English's managing director Al Anstey said the sentence "defies logic, sense, and any semblance of justice".

The three men are expected to appeal.

Al-Jazeera has said only nine of the 20 defendants are its employees. The others are reportedly students and activists, two of whom were acquitted in Monday's verdict.

It comes amid concerns over growing media restrictions in Egypt.

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Journalists react
BBC Lyse Doucet's tweet
Ian Woods, Sky News
David Aaronovitch, Times columnist

Al-Jazeera verdicts: Twitter reaction

UK reporter's shock at sentence

Andrew Harding: Peter Greste represents all journalists

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Peter Greste's brother Andrew said he was "surprised" by the verdict, and that he had been assured all along by the authorities that the Egyptian judiciary is independent.

Fahmy and Mohamed were among 16 Egyptians charged with belonging to a terrorist organisation and "harming national unity".

Greste and three other journalists who have left the country - British al-Jazeera reporters Dominic Kane and Sue Turton and the Dutch newspaper and radio journalist Rena Netjes - were accused of "collaborating with the Egyptians [the defendants] by providing them with money, equipment, information", and "airing false news".

Al-Jazeera's Sue Turton: "It's really heart-breaking and infuriating"

Al-Jazeera, which is based in Qatar, was banned from operating inside Egypt after the authorities accused it of broadcasting reports sympathetic to former President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Jazeera has consistently denied the allegations.

Qatar has supported the Brotherhood and is unpopular with Egypt's government.

Earlier this month, Fahmy shouted from the dock that the trial was a "vendetta against al-Jazeera".

He complained that they were "hostages" in a political battle between Egypt and Qatar.

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Al-Jazeera trial
Mohammed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, Peter Greste
  • Defendants included al-Jazeera's Cairo bureau chief, Mohamed Fahmy, who is Canadian-Egyptian, Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed and Australian correspondent Peter Greste
  • They denied charges of spreading false news and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood
  • The three men were seized in a raid at a Cairo hotel on 29 December and have been held at Cairo's Tora prison
  • The court tried a total of 20 people, including nine al-Jazeera employees

Who are the al-Jazeera journalists on trial in Egypt?

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Earlier, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott made a direct appeal to Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi for Greste's release.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, visiting Cairo over the weekend, said he spoke to Egyptian officials about "the essential role of a vibrant civil society, free press, rule of law and due process in a democracy".

Human rights group Amnesty International has condemned the verdicts.

"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 the groups' Middle East and North Africa director Philip Luther.

Egypt's authorities have cracked down harshly on Islamists and secular activists since Mr Morsi was removed by the military in July 2013.

Hundreds have been killed and thousands arrested.

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