In what came as a shock to the defense team, diplomats, and international observers, on Monday an Egyptian judge found three Al Jazeera journalists guilty and sentenced them each to up to ten years in jail.
Interned in poor conditions since their arrest in December 2013, Baher Mohamed, Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy are now facing long-term imprisonment. The court alleges that the journalists aided the Muslim Brotherhood – the party ousted in 2013 by the current regime – and that they wrote false news.
Canadian-Egyptian Fahmy, who was bureau chief of Al Jazeera English in Cairo, and Greste, an Australian national, both received seven year sentences. The Australian government has said it “simply cannot understand” the verdict. Greste's brother, who was at the trial, said it was “terribly devastating.”
The court issued the third journalist, Baher Mohamed, an extra three years for possessing ammunition; he was arrested with a bullet casing on him that he says he found during a protest.
Al Jazeera, rejecting the charges, has vigorously maintained that their journalists are innocent. The verdicts defied "logic, sense, and any semblance of justice," Al Jazeera English managing director Al Anstey declared.
The release of fellow Al Jazeera journalist Abdulla Elshamy last week, who had been held without charge for 10 months, spurred hope that the Egyptian government would soon release the three remaining journalists.
The court issued the sentences one day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Egypt to meet this weekend with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the Presidential Palace in Cairo. Kerry explained at a news conference that he traveled to Egypt to reaffirm Washington’s “historic partnership” with the country. During his visit he also urged al-Sisi to uphold "the universal rights and freedoms of all Egyptians.
Kerry explained that the U.S. had recently released $575 million in military aid to Egypt, which the Obama administration had been withholding since the Egyptian military – under al-Sisi's control – ousted Mohammed Morsi in July 2013.
Mr. Kerry said that the U.S. had recently released $575 million in assistance for Egypt's military. The aid unlocks the previously frozen $1.3 billion dollars that the U.S. provides the country annually with. The superpower will also be sending 10 attack helicopters to the north African nation.
The “essential role of a vibrant civil society, free press, rule of law and due process in a democracy" was discussed at the meeting, according to Kerry. The U.S. has not commented on the outcome of Monday's trial.
The verdict contributes to a wider pattern of human rights abuses in Egypt. The court found six other Al Jazeera journalists – including two Britons and one Dutch woman – guilty in absentia and sentenced them to ten years in jail, while a mass trial took place on Sunday, the day of Kerry's visit, that delivered the death penalty to 183 Egyptians.
In a year long crackdown on supporters of the previous government, al-Sisi's regime has overseen mass killings of Muslim Brotherhood members or allies. According to The Guardian, torture and brutality in the furtive Azouli military jail has increased.
Following the Egyptian government's crackdown on its journalists and operations, Al Jazeera have completely closed their operations in Cairo.