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AJ three Bel Trew

Bel Trew/Twitter

Three Al Jazeera journalists were found guilty of spreading false news and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in a Cairo court this morning.

Australian journalist Peter Greste of Al Jazeera English, and his colleagues – local producer Baher Mohamed and Egyptian bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy – were jailed for seven years each by Judge Mohamed Nagy.

Baher Mohamed was also sentenced to an additional three years in jail for possessing ammunition – apparently a bullet.

A further 10 defendants who were being tried in absentia were each given sentences of 10 years in jail.

On hearing the verdict, Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed stood in silence, with arms round each others’ shoulders in solidarity, according to BBC correspondent Christian Fraser.

He added on Twitter that Greste hit the caged dock after the verdicts were read out.

Charges

The three men have been in Tora prison since they were arrested in their Cairo hotel room on Dec. 29.

They were charged with defaming Egypt and endangering national security, doctoring footage and for affiliating with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has now been branded a terrorist group.

Throughout their 177 days in prison, the trio vehemently denied all allegations against them.

This was their 13th hearing in the Cairo courtroom. Throughout their trial, which has been ongoing since Feb. 20 and has been beset by delays, the three have spent most of their time locked in a metal cage.

They entered the packed courtroom at around 10am today and gave “brave smiles and waves” from their caged dock before the verdict.

Journalists reported some defendants shouting “hurriyah” (freedom) as they waited for the judge.

Judge Mohamed Nagy entered the courtroom 90 minutes later, just after 11.30am Doha time, and delivered the verdicts.

The three key AJE journalists were tried, along with five students and the leader of a Muslim charity, in an attempt to show that they played a part in a Muslim Brotherhood-connected plot to tarnish Egypt’s reputation. A further 11 defendants were tried in absentia, including six more Al Jazeera staff.

The prosecution’s case against the journalists centered on videos which had been seized in a bid to demonstrate a plot. They included film about horse welfare for Sky News Arabia, a BBC documentary about Somalia and uncut footage of a press conference in Kenya.

International support

There was enormous international support for the journalists throughout their trial, as the proceedings were seen by many as a symbol of tightening media restrictions in Egypt. Ambassadors from UK, Latvia, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands were in court for the verdict this morning, along with representatives from the world’s media.

Political leaders including US Secretary of State John Kerry and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott reportedly spoke about the case with Egypt’s new President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on the eve of the verdict.

On Saturday, the New York Times featured a completely empty back page, with the strapline at the bottom: “This is what happens when you silence journalists. Show your support. Journalism is not a crime. #FreeAJStaff”.

Journalists and human rights campaigners around the world organized demonstrations and press conferences to raise awareness of the men’s case, and many public figures posted photographs of themselves on Twitter with their mouths’ taped and carrying a card with the hashtag #FreeAJStaff.

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Amnesty International

Amnesty International denounced the men’s detention, describing it as a “vindictive persecution of journalists for merely doing their jobs.”

One of Greste’s brothers, Mike, has been in Egypt for many of the hearings and his other brother Andrew flew in to be in court for the verdict.

After visiting Peter Greste in prison last night, Mike Greste told Australian broadcaster ABC News his brother was ” obviously very nervous and anxious, but at the same time (he’s) very composed and level headed about it all.”

Previous hopes

Hopes for the men’s freedom had been raised when their Al Jazeera Arabic colleague Abdullah Elshamy was freed from Cairo’s Scorpion prison on Tuesday of last week, 307 days after being arrested without charge.

He had spent nearly six months on hunger strike.

On his release, he had called for the freedom of his AJE colleagues, and was outside the court for the verdict.

More recently, many observers had hoped that Kerry’s announcement on Sunday of US$575mn of US military aid for Egypt meant that government officials had pledged to free the journalists.

Throughout the trial, the Qatar-based TV channel maintained the innocence of their journalists.

In advance of the verdict, Al Jazeera English’s Managing Director Al Anstey said the journalists were being held “simply for doing their job and carrying out the highest quality journalism.”

Thoughts?

AJ three

Amy Feldtmann/Twitter

Following the release of a colleague on hunger strike, hopes are tentatively building that three Al Jazeera journalists still imprisoned in Eygpt will be freed when a verdict on their case is delivered on Monday, June 23.

Australian journalist Peter Greste of Al Jazeera English, and his colleagues Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy, have been in Tora prison since they were arrested in their Cairo hotel room on December 29.

They stand accused of defaming Egypt for their coverage of the ongoing conflict there, and for affiliating with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has now been branded a terrorist group. The trio have denied all allegations against them.

Their Al Jazeera Arabic colleague Abdullah Elshamy was freed from Cairo’s Scorpion prison on Tuesday, 307 days after being arrested without charge on August, 14, 2013, while covering the dispersal of Rabaa Aladaweya sit-in in the city.

He began a hunger strike protest in January and Egypt’s Prosecutor General released the 26-year-old journalist on “medical health” grounds on Tuesday of last week.

Abdullah Elshamy on his release

Al Hussainy Mohamed/Twitter

Abdullah Elshamy on his release

As he was greeted by jubilant crowds, he called for the release of his AJE colleagues.

International support

The plight of the journalists has been followed closely by the world’s media and they have received huge support from tens of thousands of followers on Twitter.

A press conference in support of the men is taking place in London today, headed by Terry Waite, a former envoy for the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was captured and held hostage in Lebanon for four years until he was freed in 1991, and BBC journalist Alan Johnston who was kidnapped by militants in Gaza in 2007.

Public figures across the world have publicized the men’s cause by posting photographs of themselves with their mouths’ taped and carrying a card with the hashtag #FreeAJStaff.

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Amnesty International

Greste’s family has sent messages of thanks to supporters ahead of Monday’s verdict.

Legal proceedings

The journalists’trial has met with international condemnation and a fear of tightening media restrictions in Egypt.

Legal proceedings have been going on since February 20, and have been beset by delays and at least 10 adjournments.

Through the majority of hearings, the accused have been locked in a metal cage.

Fahmy, who has been allowed out of prison to receive medical treatment for a shoulder injury, is reported by Al Jazeera to have celebrated Elshamy’s release, saying: “We are very confident we are going to be next.”

Family hopes

Outside court, Greste’s brother Mike told Australian broadcaster ABC News he was relieved that a date for the verdict had been set. While he hoped for a positive outcome, he added:

“The prospects don’t bear too much thought … because, quite frankly, the worst case scenario is terrifying.”

Earlier this week, Greste’s mother Lois, father Juris, and brother Andrew spoke of the psychological toll the process has taken on him in a Brisbane press conference.

Andrew Greste said that he thought what was helping his brother through the ordeal was the belief that he was fighting for the press freedom.

He was quoted in The Guardian newspaper telling reporters: “We’ve got to be hopeful, for Peter’s sake. We can’t give up on him.”

Lois Greste, who said neither she nor her husband were flying to Egypt for the verdict, added: “Of course we’re anxious as well. Glad it’s next Monday, it means we’re nearing the end.”

In a statement, Al Jazeera said:

“The world knows more than ever that our journalists have no case to answer and are completely innocent.

“We hope this case wraps up very soon with Peter, (producer) Baher [Mohamed] and Mohamed [Fahmy] back with their families and doing the important jobs that they have always carried out with the utmost of integrity.”

Thoughts?

Qatari students are put off from becoming journalists due to low pay and long hours, a panel of prominent Qatari journalists and writers has concluded, reports the Peninsula.

The discussion, which was held at the Cultural Creativity Centre, focused on young Qataris’ reluctance to work in the media.

The panel, which included representatives from local newspapers, universities and the government, also concluded that many young Qataris are not educated about “the vital role the media plays in society,” says the Peninsula.

The panel suggested ways to increase interest in the sector, including raising salaries and broadening opportunities for journalism training in Qatar. 

The newspaper also reports that the panel emphasised the need for students to “be prepared psychologically for the demands of the profession.”

The panel’s conclusions come just days after the launch of two separate studies which are aiming to find out how free Qatar’s growing media sector really is.

One of the studies will be done by at the request of Sheikha Mayassa by Northwestern University in Qatar, which celebrated its first graduation ceremony for its journalism students earlier this year

How do you think the media scene will change if more Qatari nationals become reporters? 

Credit: Photo by NS Newsflash