In what is being called a shocking blow to freedom of speech and a black day in the history of journalism in Egypt, three Al Jazeera staff members were sentenced to between seven and 10 years in jail on charges of aiding terrorists and/or banned organizations by “publishing lies” on Monday.
Many people are also calling the verdict a bad omen for the country that recently elected military strongman Abdel Fatah al-Sisi as the new president after ousting Mohamed Morsi.
The convicted journalists include Australian Peter Greste, Al Jazeera's Kenya-based correspondent, and Canadian-Egyptian national Mohamed Fahmy, bureau chief of Al Jazeera English.
A third defendant, Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, received an additional three-year jail sentence on a separate charge involving possession of weapons, according to Reuters.
Journalists and human rights advocates condemned the decision, calling it a “political show trial” and an indicator that Egypt going back to the old days of tyranny and persecution under Hosni Mubarak and Morsi.
The Al Jazeera trial was one of the many issues facing the newly formed government of Egypt that was supposed to decide whether affairs in the country would be any different from the past two regimes.
However, it now seems that the situation in Egypt – at least for freedom of speech – is not going to change anytime soon.
Al Jazeera urged Egypt on Monday to overturn the ruling, condemning the prison sentences as “unjustified and defying logic.”
"There is no justification whatsoever in the detention of our three colleagues for even one minute ... to have sentenced them defies logic, sense, and any semblance of justice," Al Jazeera English managing director Al Anstey said in a statement to Reuters.
"There is only one sensible outcome now. For the verdict to be overturned, and justice to be recognized by Egypt. We must keep our voice loud to call for an end to their detention," he said.
Members of the press from all over the world recorded their reactions and protests online as soon as the verdict was announced:
Sadly inevitable after sham of a trial #journalismisnotacrime— Rob Crilly (@robcrilly) June 23, 2014
I strongly condemn the 7 years conviction by a fake & puppet Egyptian court against 3 Aljazeera English Journalists http://t.co/YRmCk8SFA6— Hamid Mir (@HamidMirGEO) June 23, 2014
As a friend I feel incredibly sad, as a journalist I'm scared, as an Egyptian I'm ashamed #AJTrial— Sherine Tadros (@SherineT) June 23, 2014
Utterly devastating result here in Cairo. I don't know what to say. #ajtrial— Hayden Cooper (@haydencooper) June 23, 2014
A seven year jail sentence for the Al Jazeera trio -- really? Shame on you Egypt for using journalists as a political pawn.— Una Galani (@ugalani) June 23, 2014
Sentencing of Al Jazeera 3 is an assault on all journalists. Vital that Egypt understands it has made itself a pariah #FreeAJStaff— Robert Peston (@Peston) June 23, 2014
Earlier this year, human rights organization Amnesty International called on the Egyptian authorities to immediately drop the charges against three journalists.
“Journalists cannot operate freely in a climate of fear. The latest development is a brazen attempt to stifle independent reporting in Egypt. In the lead up to elections, a free press is essential,” said Secretary General of Amnesty International Salil Shetty.
However, given the final verdict in the case, it just goes to demonstrate the willingness of the new leadership to have “free press” and “independent reporting” in the country.