Al-Jazeera Journalists Sentenced To Death In Egypt

An Egyptian court has sentenced six people, including two Al-Jazeera journalists, to death, for passing documents concerning national security to the Qatar based TV network during the reign of the now ousted president Mohammed Morsi.

A total of 11 people, including the ousted president, Morsi himself, were handed their final ruling on Saturday. During the initial ruling on May 7, six of the 11 had been handed the death penalty. But, as per the standard Egyptian procedure, the court needed to seek the advice of Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Shawqi Allam. Egyptian courts require the Grand Mufti, Egypt’s highest Sunni leader, to sign off on all death penalties. The Grand Mufti’s opinions, although not binding, are highly regarded in the Egyptian court system.

Journalists sentenced to death in Egypt
Egyptian judge, Mohammed Shirin Fahmy, reads the verdict. [Photo by Amr Nabil/AP Images]
The judge who passed the ruling announced the verdict from the Mufti’s office, claiming that the six people sentenced to death had sought to harm the country by passing on military tactics and intelligence reports to a foreign agency.

“They are more dangerous than spies, because spies are usually foreigners, but these are, regrettably, Egyptians who betrayed the trust. No ideology can ever justify the betrayal of one’s country.”

The other five people, including Morsi, were sentenced to life in prison for being members of the now-banned organization, the Muslim Brotherhood. They were however acquitted of any espionage charges, and thus managed to avoid capital punishment. In addition to this, Morsi and his secretary, Amin el-Sirafy, have each received an additional 15-years to their sentences on charge of leaking official documents. Morsi’s daughter, Karima, has also received a 15-year prison sentence on the same charge. Unfortunately for Morsi, this is not the only case against him. He could yet be sentenced to death for other charges he is currently fighting.

Of the 11 that were sentenced on Saturday, seven, including Morsi, are currently in custody of the Egyptian authorities. The Al Jazeera journalists, news producer Alaa Oman Mohammed and news editor Ibrahim Mohammed Hilal, who are currently outside Egypt were sentenced in absentia. So was yet another journalist, Asmaa al-Khateib, who was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood by the Egyptian court.

Al Jazeera has since released a statement condemning the court’s decision, calling it an act of political vengeance and a part of a campaign against the freedom of expression.

“Al Jazeera believes this is an unjust and politicised [sic] sentence that is a part of the ruthless campaign against freedom of speech and expression, in order to muzzle the voice of free press.

“Al Jazeera finds the sentence incriminating to the profession of journalism which all international laws and legislation seek to protect, and to all journalists who should be enabled to report with objectivity, professionalism, and integrity.”

Reporters Without Borders, an international organization dedicated to the promotion and defense of the freedom of Journalists, reported in their 2015 Press Freedom Index that Egypt ranked 158 out of 180. And later that year, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported Egypt as being second only to China in number of journalists jailed.

Egypt has been embroiled in political unrest ever since the military overthrew the presidency of the Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in 2013. Ever since the coup, which brought military leader Abdel Fatah el-Sisi to power, the Muslim Brotherhood has been banned and declared a terrorist organization. And in the last couple of years, Egypt has seen a steep rise in court rulings against former members of the Muslim Brotherhood, many of whom have received the death penalty.

[Photo by Amr Nabil/AP Images]

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