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Al Jazeera Journalists Jailed Again By Egyptian Authorities

The trio were originally convicted in 2014 of spreading false news and aiding terrorists, but won a retrial earlier this year. Saturday's unexpected conviction was met with shock and disgust by media and human rights groups.

Posted on August 29, 2015, at 9:57 a.m. ET

Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy, and lawyer Amal Clooney in court on Saturday.
Asmaa Waguih / Reuters

Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy, and lawyer Amal Clooney in court on Saturday.

Three Al Jazeera journalists were sentenced to three years in prison by an Egyptian court on Saturday -- the second time the reporters have been convicted and imprisoned on charges of spreading false news and aiding terrorists.

In a case that has drawn widespread international condemnation, Egyptian Baher Mohamed, Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, and Australian Peter Greste were originally found guilty in June 2014 of assisting the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group in the wake of the army's 2013 ousting of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. Greste and Fahmy originally received sentences of seven years imprisonment, while Mohamed was sentenced to 10 years jail.

An appeals court ordered a retrial in January, with Greste deported to Australia in February after spending 400 days in prison.

Supporters of the trio had expected the case to be thrown out on Saturday, but Judge Hassan Farid instead convicted the journalists because they had not registered with Egypt's press syndicate.

Mohamed received an additional six months on his sentence for being in possession of a spent bullet case, Al Jazeera reported.

Fahmy and Mohamed, who were in court for the hearing, were immediately taken into custody, while Greste tweeted his shock at at being sentenced in absentia from his home in Australia.

Shocked. Outraged. Angry. Upset. None of them convey how I feel right now. 3 yr sentences for @bahrooz, @MFFahmy11 and me is so wrong.

In a statement, Al Jazeera Media Network's Acting Director General Mostefa Souag said the verdict "defies logic and common sense."

"Today's verdict is yet another deliberate attack on press freedom," he said. "It is a dark day for the Egyptian judiciary; rather than defend liberties and a free and fair media, they have compromised their independence for political reasons."

Fahmy and Mohamed sit in a courtroom cage on Saturday.
Khaled Desouki / AFP / Getty Images

Fahmy and Mohamed sit in a courtroom cage on Saturday.

Egyptian authorities contend that the Qatar-funded news network is biased, but human rights campaigners say the journalists have been punished because of political disputes between Cairo and Doha, which supported Morsi.

Amal Clooney, the lawyer representing the journalists, told reporters outside the court the verdict sent a "very dangerous message."

"It sends a message that journalists can be locked up for simply doing their job, for telling the truth and reporting the news," she said. "And it sends a dangerous message that there are judges in Egypt who will allow their courts to become instruments of political repression and propaganda.”

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who had pressed the Egyptian authorities to release Greste, said she was "dismayed" by the "distressing" sentence.

"I have spoken with Mr. Greste today and reaffirmed that I will continue to pursue all diplomatic avenues with my Egyptian counterpart to clear his name," she said in a statement.

The Canadian government also condemned the sentence and called for the release of Fahmy, who is a dual Egyptian citizen.

"This decision severely undermines confidence in the rule of law in Egypt," Minister of State Lynne Yelich said.

Yelich said Canadian officials would continue to raise the case with Egypt's government at the highest level .

Amnesty International said the convictions were an "affront to justice."

"This is a farcical verdict which strikes at the heart of freedom of expression in Egypt," Philip Luther, the Amnesty International director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement.