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Egypt’s conviction of Al Jazeera journalists sparks international outcry

June 23, 2014 at 6:12 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Elsewhere in the Middle East, three Al-Jazeera journalists learned their fate in a Cairo courtroom today, sparking an international outcry.

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

JEFFREY BROWN: Tanks were deployed and tight security in place for the readings of the verdicts, after a five-month trial that was widely denounced outside Egypt as a sham.

JUDGE MOHAMED NAGY SHEHATA (through interpreter): Seven years of maximum jail time.

JEFFREY BROWN: The sentences for Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, a Canadian- Egyptian, Australian correspondent Peter Greste, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, who received 10 years, led to pandemonium at the court; 17 co-defendants were also sentenced. Fahmy is a former CNN producer who once helped the NewsHour’s Margaret Warner and crew escape an attack by a mob in Cairo

Today, he was yelling, “They will pay for this,” as he and the others were taken away.

His brother, Adel Fadel Fahmy:

ADEL FADEL FAHMY, Brother of Defendant (through interpreter): This is clear-cut corruption; it is a corrupt and politicized case and everything is wrong in this case.

JEFFREY BROWN: Fahmy’s family vowed to appeal, as did Peter Greste’s brother, Mike.

MIKE GRESTE, Brother of Defendant: Wrong verdict. I don’t — I don’t know how the judge came to that decision. I would be very interested to hear his reasons for giving that verdict. But it doesn’t make any sense.

JEFFREY BROWN: The three journalists were arrested last December and accused of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood by reporting on civil strife in Egypt. The Brotherhood had been banned as a terrorist group.

At the time, the journalists were working undercover because the government had accused Al-Jazeera of pro-Brotherhood bias. Last week, the company terminated its operations in Egypt. Al-Jazeera is owned by the government of Qatar; the Gulf emirate is a political supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, but the network denies any charges of bias.

AL ANSTEY, Managing Director, Al-Jazeera English: Today was a really grim day for journalists and for journalism.

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s managing director spoke in Doha.

AL ANSTEY: People who respect freedom of expression, people who respect basic freedoms should say, no, enough is enough. Governments who deal with Egypt should recognize the injustice of what took place in Cairo today.

JEFFREY BROWN: Official denunciations also poured in from around the world. This was Secretary of State Kerry from Baghdad.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: Today’s conviction is obviously — it’s a chilling and draconian sentence. And, you know, it’s deeply disturbing to see in the midst of Egypt’s transition.

JEFFREY BROWN: Just a day earlier, Secretary Kerry visited Egypt, with word the U.S. is releasing $575 million in assistance that had been on hold, and that Egypt will be getting Apache helicopter gunships to fight insurgents in the Sinai region.

The secretary met with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, among others. Last year, the former army leader ousted Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, and last month, he was elected president himself. All the while, a crackdown on political opponents has intensified. Alaa Abdel Fattah, a leader of the January 2011 revolution, was sentenced last week to 15 years for violating a ban on protests.

And, on Saturday, Mohamed Badie, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, had his death sentence upheld, along with nearly 200 supporters.