An Egyptian court has sentenced six people, including two journalists for the Al-Jazeera news service, to death for allegedly leaking state secrets to Qatar.
The court also dumped another life sentence on deposed president Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, who is already likely to spend the rest of his life in prison, despite an earlier ruling clearing Morsi of espionage charges.
“The court ruled Saturday in support of a verdict ratified by Egypt’s religious leaders in the case dubbed the ‘Qatar spying case,'” reports CNN, noting that in addition to two employees of Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, another reporter for Rasd media was convicted.
Death sentences were also handed down to a documentary filmmaker, an EgyptAir flight attendant, and a university teaching assistant.
According to Middle East Eye, the two Al-Jazeera defendants, senior editor Ibrahim Mohamed Hilal and producer Alaa Omar Mohamed Sabian (a Jordanian citizen) were not in Egypt, and so were tried in absentia.
Al-Jazeera denounced the verdict as “an unjust and politicized 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,” the network added.
Al-Jazeera’s complaint was supported by Amnesty International, which declared that “Egypt’s broken and utterly corrupted justice system is now little more than a handy tool for the authorities’ repression of any vestiges of opposition or criticism.”
The government of Qatar also blasted the judgment, with a spokesman for the Qatari Foreign Ministry declaring the accusations of espionage as “invalid” and saying the verdicts “lack a proper sense of justice, and they were issued on reasons not related to the law but to other self-evident reasons that do not help to consolidate the fraternal ties and relations between the sister countries.”
Qatari spokesman Ahmed Al Romeihy also said the verdict set a “dangerous precedent for the relations between Arab countries,” since Qatar has been “at the top of the list of countries that have supported the Egyptian people since the January 25 revolution,” according to the Egypt Independent.
Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zaid fired back at Qatar, declaring that “history and the Egyptians won’t forget those who insult them.”
“The relations and ties that bind Qatari and Egyptian societies will remain solid and Egypt will remain a faithful neighbor that cares for the interests of all the Middle East, never interferes in the internal affairs of other countries, and maintains the security and integrity of the nation,” Zaid added.
As the Egypt Independent recalls, there has been some tension between Egypt and Qatar over allegations that Qatar gave money to the Muslim Brotherhood. Also, the Qatari government and Al-Jazeera condemned retaliatory Egyptian airstrikes against ISIS in Libya, after ISIS beheaded a group of captive Coptic Christians, claiming there was excessive civilian collateral damage.
Voice of America News reports that the sentences handed down on Saturday by the Egyptian court are still subject to appeal. Furthermore, “under standard procedure in cases of capital punishment, a judge’s recommendation is presented to the office of Egypt’s Grand Mufti, the nation’s top Muslim theological authority, for endorsement.”