An Egyptian court sentenced six people to death on Saturday (June 18), including two employees of the Al Jazeera network, a Doha-based broadcaster owned and funded by the Qatari royal family. According to the Associated Press, the two are charged with passing sensitive documents regarding Egyptian national security to Qatar during the tenure of former president Mohamed Morsi.
Morsi, by far the highest-profile defendant among the six, has already been sentenced to death in another case—he allegedly instigated a mass jail break—though the verdict is currently under appeal. He was ousted from power by the military in July 2013. His strong ties to the Qatari government are well known throughout the Arab world.
The two Al Jazeera employees sentenced are news producer Alaa Sablan and editor Ibrahim Mohammed Hilal. According to Al Jazeera, both men are former employees with the company and are not currently being held in Egypt. Both were tried in absentia.
Hilal told his former employer that he was “angered” by what he believes to be specious charges. “What really annoyed me today was the intensive talk and the self-assurances given by the judge and how he was sure these people betrayed the nation,“ he said. “For me, the real betrayal of this nation is wasting its time and money in these silly things and fabricated cases.”
Al Jazeera issued a statement strongly condemning the court’s ruling. “This sentence is only one of many politicized sentences that target Al Jazeera and its employees,” the network’s acting director Mostefa Souag said. “They are illogical convictions and legally baseless. Al Jazeera strongly denounces targeting its journalists and stands by the other journalists who have also been sentenced.”
The three other defendants who received death sentences were Ahmed Afify, a documentary producer, EgyptAir cabin-crew member Mohammed Keilany, and Ahmed Ismail, a university professor. The decision can and likely will be appealed.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Egypt remains one of the worst places in the world to be a journalist—only China imprisons more. The CPJ reports that there were 199 known journalists imprisoned around the world in 2015.