Jailing of Al Jazeera journalists 'political'

Reporters Without Borders says the situation in Egypt is a miscarriage of justice.

Al Jazeera staff (L-R) Baher Mohamed, Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy were sentenced to seven years in an Egyptian Court on 23 June 2014.

CAIRO - As pressure mounts on Egypt to pardon three Al Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt, Reporters Without Borders says the decision was purely political.

In a ruling that sparked global outrage and fears of a growing media crackdown, a court on Monday sentenced Peter Greste and Mohamed Fadel Fahmy to seven years in prison while their colleague Baher Mohamed received two sentences of seven and three years.

Eleven defendants tried in absentia were handed 10-year jail terms.

The journalists are accused of spreading lies and supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Head of the Middle East and North Africa desk at Reporters Without Borders Soazig Dollet has condemned the ruling.

"Reporters Without Borders is really concerned about the situation in Egypt because we know that deep down it is a political decision. This is a miscarriage of justice."

The three Al Jazeera journalists were jailed by an Egyptian judge, in what Washington called "chilling, draconian sentences" that must be reversed.

Cairo defended the journalists' convictions for aiding a "terrorist organisation" - and rejected the widespread condemnation as "interference in its internal affairs".

The three denied the charge of working with the now banned Muslim Brotherhood.

The third defendant, Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, was given an extra three years for possessing a single bullet, at the hearing attended by Western diplomats, some of whose governments summoned Egypt's ambassadors over the case.

The men have been held at Egypt's notorious Tora Prison for six months, with the case becoming a rallying point for rights groups and news organisations around the world.

They were detained in late December and charged with helping "a terrorist group" - a reference to the Muslim brotherhood - by broadcasting lies that harmed national security and supplying money, equipment and information to a group of Egyptians.

The Brotherhood was banned and declared a terrorist group after the army deposed elected Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in July following mass protests against his rule. The Brotherhood says it is a peaceful organisation.

Al Jazeera, whose Qatari owners back the Brotherhood and have been at odds with Egypt's leadership, said the ruling defied "logic, sense and any semblance of justice". "There is only one sensible outcome now. For the verdict to be overturned, and justice to be recognised by Egypt," Al Jazeera English managing director Al Anstey said in a statement.

The ruling came a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry met newly elected Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo and raised the issue of the journalists. On Monday, Kerry said he called Egypt's foreign minister to register his "serious displeasure" at the "chilling, draconian sentences".

"Injustices like these simply cannot stand if Egypt is to move forward in the way that President al-Sisi and Foreign Minister (Sameh) Shoukry told me just yesterday that they aspire to see their country advance," Kerry said in a statement.