A court in Egypt has sentenced three journalists from Al-Jazeera, including an Australian reporter who has won a number of awards, to seven years behind bars in a court case that has succeeded in igniting concerns that officials are using the country’s national security as a pretext in curbing people’s freedoms.
Authorities originally accused 20 people, which included four who were foreigners, of activities that were terrorism related in support of the Muslim Brotherhood that had been outlawed.
Officials argued that they dirtied the image of Egypt and undermined the country’s national security.
Peter Greste from Australia and Cairo’s English bureau chief for Al-Jazeera, Mohamed Fahmy were each given seven years behind bars, while Baher Mohamed was given an additional 3 years on a charge of possessing a weapon.
Andrew Greste, brother of Peter, called the verdict unbelievable and not what was expected. He said it would take some time for the lawyers to regroup and go over their available options that were available to them. Julie Bishop the Foreign Minister from Australia said she felt appalled.
The verdicts were given a day after John Kerry the U.S. Secretary of State met with Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi the new President of Egypt in Cairo.
While in Egypt, Kerry urged the government to free the jailed journalists and to ensure freedoms. He promised to have more military aid delivered in an attempt to patch different rifts developing between the allies after the military in Egypt ousted Mohammed Morsi the former president from office on July 3, 2013.
In December of 2013, the defendants had been detained, as part of the country’s crackdown on the Brotherhood, which followed the overthrow of Morsi.
Rulers in Qatar, who are Al-Jazeera financiers supported Morsi while in was in office and the network in Egypt has been looked at as being biased in favor of the Brotherhood.
Eleven more people were sentenced by the court in absentia to up to 10 years behind bars, while two were given acquittals.
The authorities crackdown towards the Brotherhood under at the time Defense Minister now President El-Sisi, raised the concerns of many about freedoms and the commitment of the government supported by the military to democracy.