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JUST IN: Al-Jazeera Journalists Sentenced To 3-Years In Prison By Egyptian Court

Mohammed Fahmy, Baher Mohammed and Peter Greste found guilty of operating without press licence and broadcasting material harmful to Egypt

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An Egyptian judge sentenced three journalists to three years in prison on Saturday in connection with their work for Al-Jazeera English.

At the end of their retrial, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were taken into custody from a metal and glass cage inside the courtroom at Cairo’s Tora prison. Peter Greste was deported to his home country of Australia in early February and was convicted in absentia.

The case has been an illustration of the erosion of press freedom in Egypt in the two years since the military removed the country’s elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, from power.

RELATED: Freed Al-Jazeera Journalists Grab Prestigious British Journalism Award

Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste pictured in a Cairo court last year. (Photo Credit: Heba Elkholy/AP)
Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste pictured in a Cairo court last year. (Photo Credit: Heba Elkholy/AP)

Judge Hassan Farid said that in his court’s view the men were not journalists. He then read out the sentences, which triggered a chaotic reaction in the courtroom as reporters, foreign diplomats and distraught family members rushed to leave the building.

“I’m too shocked. My only hope is on deportation, because this is a joke of a trial. No process, nothing logical at all. Everything was pointing towards exoneration today,” said Fahmy’s brother Adel.

The three men were arrested in December 2013 and charged with broadcasting false reports and colluding with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now outlawed as a terrorist group in Egypt.

RELATED: Al-Jazeera Journalist Peter Greste Released From Egyptian Jail

They were detained following a raid on a Marriott hotel in Cairo. Footage of security agents interrogating Fahmy and Greste during the raid was later broadcast on television. Egypt’s pro-government media labelled the three the “Marriott cell”.

Critics described the initial trial was described as Kafkaesque. As evidence, prosecutors played footage of a trotting horse from Sky News Arabia and a music video for the song Somebody That I Used To Know by Gotye.

Despite of the peculiarities of the court proceedings, which were widely regarded as a farce, the three men were sentenced to seven to 10 years in prison in 2014. The verdict and sentences were widely denounced by foreign governments and news organisations.

In December 2014 an appeals court ordered a retrial. After spending more than 400 days in prison, Greste was deported and Fahmy and Mohamed were released on bail in February.

Rights groups have documented a crackdown on media freedom in Egypt since Morsi’s overthrow in 2013.

Following the military takeover, the state closed down some news organisations and arrested increasing numbers of journalists.

In June 2014, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists reported that at least 18 other media workers were in prison in Egypt, the highest number since the group began its count in 1990.

Fahmy has distanced himself from Al-Jazeera, accusing the network of placing him and his colleagues in danger, lying about the channel’s legal status in Egypt and displaying editorial bias in favour of Islamists. He is suing the network for damages in a Canadian court.

Seventeen people were originally charged in the case, including the journalist Sue Turton and producer Dominic Kane. They are also on trial in absentia after leaving Egypt. OAlongside them are two Egyptian students and an NGO manager who the journalists say they had never met before the trial.

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