Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy (C) addresses reporters ahead of his sentencing to three years of maximum security prison for spreading false news, on August 29, 2015. ASWAT MASRIYA/Mohamed al-Rayi
CAIRO, Aug 29 (Aswat Masriya) - An Egyptian court sentenced on Saturday three journalists who worked for the Qatari news network Al Jazeera to three years of maximum security prison for spreading false news.
Canadian national Mohamed Fahmy, Egyptian national Baher Mohamed and Australian national Peter Greste were being retried for defaming Egypt and spreading false news, after the Cassation Court dropped their seven to 10 years in prison sentences in January.
Mohamed was sentenced to a further six months for arms possession; a spent bullet casing.
The head of the court said that it was clear to the court that the defendants "are not journalists and are not registered with [Egypt's] press syndicate or the State Information Service."
He added that it was proved that the defendants possessed unlicensed devices and spread "false news" on Al Jazeera channel to "harm the country", noting that Al Jazeera doesn't possess a license to work in Egypt.
Fahmy and Mohamed were taken back to jail after the trial. The public prosecution is yet to conduct a count of the time they spent in preventive detention, to subtract it from their prison sentences.
The case involved six other defendants; six were sentenced to three years in prison while the remaining two were acquitted.
All verdicts are subject to appeal.
'DARK DAY FOR EGYPT'S JUDICIARY'
Reactions to the sentencing poured in shortly after the verdict was out.
"Shocked. Outraged. Angry. Upset. None of them convey how I feel right now," Greste, who was sentenced in absentia, tweeted. "Three year sentences for @bahrooz [Mohamed], @MMFahmy11 [Fahmy] and me is so wrong."
Julie Bishop, Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister, said she was "dismayed" by the verdict issued against Greste, describing it as a "distressing outcome".
"I have spoken with Mr Greste today and reaffirmed that I will continue to pursue all diplomatic avenues with my Egyptian counterpart to clear his name," Bishop said in a statement.
The sentence was also condemned by Al Jazeera Media Network's Acting Director General Mostefa Souag, who said the sentence "defies logic and common sense."
"Today's verdict is yet another deliberate attack on press freedom. It is a dark day for the Egyptian judiciary; rather than defend liberties and a free and fair media they have compromised their independence for political reasons," Souag said in a statement.
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International described the verdict as "farcical", calling for it to be "overturned immediately".
The condemnation was echoed by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which said in a statement that the trial was conducted with "no evidence."
"We call on Egyptian authorities to put an end to the abuse of the law which has made Egypt one of the riskiest countries in the world to be a journalist," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour.
Saturday's session was attended by Fahmy's international lawyer, Amal Clooney. The Canadian, Dutch and British ambassadors to Cairo were also among the attendants.
Clooney said she will request a presidential pardon for the three sentenced Al Jazeera journalists.
The three journalists were arrested from the Marriott Hotel in Cairo's posh island of Zamalek in December 2013 and initially sentenced to prison in June 2014. They spent no less than 400 days in prison before their release in February 2015 on different days and under different conditions.
The defendants' prison sentences were widely condemned worldwide and opened the door for scrutinising press freedoms in Egypt.
Greste was the first of the trio to be granted his freedom.
He was deported on February 1 as per a presidential decree, which allows the deportation of foreign defendants and convicts "whenever the [state's] supreme interest necessitate so."
Following Saturday's verdict, Greste told Al Jazeera that as per Egyptian laws, he will not be able to appeal unless he is physically present in Egypt.
"But we will explore any other legal avenues that we have open to us," Greste said.
"If Egypt issues international arrest warrants, as is standard under the circumstances, this means that I won't be able to travel to any country that has an extradition treaty with Egypt. And effectively, that makes a mess of my career as a foreign correspondent."
In the hopes of benefiting from the same decree which saw Greste released, Fahmy, who held a dual Egyptian-Canadian citizenship prior to the trial, revoked his Egyptian citizenship in February.
Yet, giving up his nationality did not speed up his release and both he and Mohamed were released as per a court order on the same day, February 12.
Al Jazeera suspended on December 22 the broadcast of its Egyptian channel, Jazeera Mubasher Misr, two days after Egypt and Qatar "responded" to the late Saudi monarch's invitation "to consolidate relations between them".
The suspension will last until the "circumstances are appropriate" for return, the channel said. It added that it is seeking the conclusion of necessary permits for broadcasting in Egypt, in coordination with the authorities.
(Writing by Rana Muhammad Taha)