In a case that dates back to 2013, an Egyptian court sentenced three reporters from the Al Jazeera network to three years in prison today (Aug. 29). The judge, Hassan Farid, said the trio operated without the proper registration or clearances from security officials. The defendants deny all charges.
The journalists, Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed, were originally convicted and sentenced by the Cairo court last year to serve between seven and 10 years for “airing false news.” The led to widespread criticism about freedom of speech and the independence of the judiciary under Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former general who overthrew his predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, and implemented military rule before winning a largely uncontested election last year.
Amid the outcry, an appeals court ordered a retrial of the reporters. Greste, an Australian, was deported earlier this year but sentenced in absentia. Fahmy, who held both Egyptian and Canadian citizenship, had renounced his Egyptian citizenship in hopes of being deported as well. But he and Mohamed, an Egyptian, were brought back into court for the retrial after being released on bail—they will now return to prison. Fahmy has sued Al Jazeera in a Canadian court, claiming negligence on the broadcaster’s part to ensure his safety.
Throughout the trials, prosecutors have tried to prove that the journalists were spreading false news in aid of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government considers a terrorist organization. Morsi, the former president and leader of the Islamist group, was sentenced to death in May along with more than 100 others on charges of inciting violence during the waning days of former president Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
Al Jazeera condemned today’s verdict of its employees as “truly bizarre” and vowed to continue to fight for the reporters’ release. In a statement broadcast from Australia, Greste called the sentences “unjust, unethical, and immoral on so many levels.”