EGYPT

Brought together by the devil: judge explains Al-Jazeera trio's harsh sentences

Egyptian court gives reasoning for harsh jail terms that have triggered international outcry

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 July, 2014, 11:38pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 July, 2014, 11:38pm
AP

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An Egyptian judge has released his reasoning for harsh sentences issued against three Al-Jazeera journalists, saying they were brought together "by the devil" to destabilise the country.

The main evidence cited in the 57-page document was film produced by the journalists that included voices critical of the government and showed the turmoil in Egypt after the overthrow of Islamist president Mohammed Mursi, as well as interviews with families of those killed in the crackdown on Mursi supporters.

The reasoning was released a month after Judge Mohammed Shehata convicted and sentenced the three, Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian acting bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed, to seven years jail over charges linked to aiding the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government declared a terrorist organisation after the overthrow of Mursi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader.

They were brought together by the devil to abuse this profession …
JUDGE MOHAMMED SHEHATA

The verdicts triggered denunciations. Rights groups called the trial a "sham" that sent a chilling message to the press. The defendants and Qatar-based Al-Jazeera denied the charges, saying they were being prosecuted merely for doing their jobs.

The three were convicted of spreading false information, faking reports to show that the country was on the verge of civil war, and for aiding the Brotherhood's goal in portraying Egypt as a failed state. Mohammed received another three years for his possession of a spent bullet.

Under Egyptian law, now that the judge has released his reasoning, the defendants have a month to appeal against the verdicts.

In his reasoning, the judge stated that the defendants, who worked for Al-Jazeera's English-language channel, broadcast their material through a TV station that works "in the service of a banned terrorist organisation", referring to the Brotherhood. But the document provided no clear link between the Brotherhood and the network.

Shehata said he found the evidence compelling, with no "false allegations or contradictory statements" in testimony.

"The defendants used the noble journalistic work for reasons other than its purposes, turning the profession that seeks the truth to one that falsifies the truth," he said.

"They were brought together by the devil to abuse this profession and turn it into acts against the nation."