An Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced six people, including two Al-Jazeera employees, to death for allegedly passing documents related to national security to Qatar and the Doha-based TV network during the rule of President Mohammed Morsi.
Morsi, the top defendant, and two of his aides were sentenced to 25 years in prison for membership in the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood group but were acquitted of espionage, a capital offense. Morsi and his secretary, Amin el-Sirafy, each received an additional 15-year sentence for leaking official documents. El-Sirafy's daughter, Karima, was also sentenced to 15 years on the same charge.
Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected leader, was ousted by a military coup in July 2013 and has already been sentenced to death in another case. That death sentence and another two — life and 20 years in prison — are under appeal. The Brotherhood was banned and declared a terrorist organization after the coup. Khalid Radwan, a producer at a Brotherhood-linked TV channel, received a 15-year prison sentence.
All of Saturday's verdicts can be appealed. Of the case's 11 defendants, seven, including Morsi, are in custody.
Amnesty International called for the death sentences to be immediately thrown out and for the "ludicrous charges against the journalists to be dropped."
The two Al-Jazeera employees — identified by the judge as news producer Alaa Omar Mohammed and news editor Ibrahim Mohammed Hilal — were sentenced to death in absentia along with Asmaa al-Khateib, who worked for Rasd, a media network widely suspected of links to Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.
Al-Jazeera condemned the verdicts, saying they were part of a "ruthless" campaign against freedom of expression, and called on the international community to show solidarity with the journalists.
"This sentence is only one of many politicized sentences that target Al Jazeera and its employees," the network's acting director Mostefa Souag said in a statement. "They are illogical convictions and legally baseless. Al Jazeera strongly denounces targeting its journalists and stands by the other journalists who have also been sentenced."
A news story that appeared earlier on the Al-Jazeera English website identified Hilal as a former director of news at Al-Jazeera's Arabic channel and said Alaa Omar Mohammed was an Al-Jazeera employee until last year. The network's statement confirmed Hilal's status, but only said that Mohammed was "identified by the prosecution as an Al-Jazeera journalist."
The three other defendants sentenced to death Saturday are documentary producer Ahmed Afify, EgyptAir cabin crew member Mohammed Keilany and academic Ahmed Ismail.
Egypt was ranked 158 out of 180 countries in the 2015 Press Freedom Index, according to Reporters Without Borders. In December, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Egypt was second only to China as the world's worst jailer of journalists in 2015.
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