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article image#FreeAJStaff: Jailing of journalists incites outrage, criticism

By Megan Hamilton     Jun 24, 2014 in World
The imprisonment and sentencing of three journalists in an Egyptian court has sparked outrage from human rights groups, journalists, media organizations, and scores of activists on social media, as well as criticism from the White House.
On the heels of a visit with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi by Secretary of State John Kerry last weekend, a judge on Monday convicted three Al Jazeera journalists of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to broadcast false reports, according to The New York Times.
Australian correspondent Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian acting Cairo bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy, and Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed, each of whom received an extra three years in prison on separate charges, according to NBC News.
The judge handed down 10-year sentences to two British journalists and a Dutch journalist whom were fortunately not in Egypt and were tried in absentia, NBC reported.
Activists took to the social media today decrying the situation by using the phrase "Journalism is not a crime."
The verdict has left the White House in a particularly sticky situation — by appearing, once again, to ally itself with an authoritarian leader a mere three years after President Barack Obama backed the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, the Times reports.
Kerry, who was in Baghdad on Monday, appeared shocked by the verdict and sentencing, and told journalists that he had immediately called the Egyptian foreign minister to express "our serious displeasure," according to the Times.
The courtroom, which was packed with journalists, family members and diplomats erupted into shouts after the verdict was read. Independent observers have said there was a complete lack of evidence, according to The Guardian.
"They'll pay for this," Fahmy shouted as he was led away.
Fahmy's mother and fiancee cried, while his brother Adel reacted with anger.
"This is not a system," he said, according to The Guardian. "This is not a country. They've ruined our lives. It shows everything that's wrong with the system: It's corrupt. This country is corrupt through and through."
Activists and diplomats who have observed the trial have expressed incredulity at the outcome.
"On the basis of the evidence that we've seen, we can't understand the verdict," said Ralph King, the Australian ambassador in Cairo, The Guardian reports. "We will make our feelings clear to the Egyptian government and we will continue to provide all possible consular assistance.'"
The evidence provided by the prosecution includes footage from channels and events with absolutely nothing to do with Egyptian politics or Al Jazeera. Instead, it included videos of trotting horses from Sky News Arabia and a BBC documentary about Somalia, among other things.
The White House has condemned the prosecution and called on the Egyptian government to immediately pardon the prosecuted journalists so that they could be released.
"The prosecution of journalists for reporting information that does not coincide with the government of Egypt's narrative flouts the most basic standards of media freedom and represents a blow to democratic progress in Egypt," President Obama's press spokesman, Josh Earnest said, according to The Guardian.
Earnest also said the convictions were "most disturbing" to Washington, adding that they were part of a succession of prosecutions of political activists and death sentences that are "fundamentally incompatible with the basic precepts of human rights and democratic governance."
It's not known what recourse the defendants will take. As he was led away, Fahmy shouted that he would not seek an appeal, whereas Greste's youngest brother Mike said that an appeal was the only legal recourse left to his family, The Guardian reported.
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