Cairo — A court in Egypt has sentenced to death two Al-Jazeera journalists, during the trial of the country’s former Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. The court accused them on Saturday for providing secret documents, concerning state security, to Qatar and the Doha-based broadcaster.

Morsi was sentenced to 25 years in jail for espionage and other 15 years for a misdemeanor. He was already sentenced to death in a different case but decided to appeal. In June 2012, he became the first freely elected president in the country.

Deposed President Mohamed Mursi greets his lawyers and people from behind bars at a court wearing the red uniform of a prisoner sentenced to death, during his court appearance with Muslim Brotherhood members on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt on June 21, 2015. Image: Amr Dalsh / Reuters/The Star

Six of the defendants were sentenced to death. Morsi’s secretary Amin el-Sirady received a life sentence. He would face 35 years in jail. His daughter was sentenced to 15 years in prison. All Saturday’s verdicts can be appealed to the Court of Cessation.

Ibrahim Helal, former director of news at Al Jazeera‘s Arabic channel, was tried, although he is not in Egypt and did not attend the court. The latter said Helal filtered state secrets to Qatar, according to The Associated Press (AP).

“This sentence is only one of many politicized sentences that target Al Jazeera and its employees. 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,” Helal was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera.

International organizations have criticized Egypt’s decision

The court accused two other journalists, including Alaa Sablan of Al Jazeera and Asmaa Alkhatib, of Rassd News Network. Political activist Ahmed Ahmed Afifi, cabin crew member Mohamed Kilani, and academic Ahmed Ismail were sentenced to death and are currently in state custody.

The International Press Institute told Al Jazeera that the verdict was disappointing. He called the Interpol and foreign governments to not to collaborate if an extradition order is requested. “This was a sham case that was politically motivated,” he said.

Amnesty International condemned the court’s decisions in a statement, saying that death sentences should be removed, as well as “ludicrous charges against journalists.” On the other hand, Al Jazeera said the verdicts were against freedom of expression.

Egypt was the world’s second-worst jailer of journalists in 2015 after China, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. International organizations have requested the Middle East country to free at least 70 imprisoned journalists.

Judge: they are more dangerous than spies because they are Egyptians

Judge Mohammed Shirin Fahmy ruled on May 7 that six defendants had been sentenced to death. The final verdict depended on Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam, the highest religious authority in the transcontinental country.

Mr. Mufti supported the court’s ruling, saying that people involved in the case sought to affect Egypt when they filtered documents about the army’s deployment to Qatar, as reported by The Associated Press.

According to Mr. Fahmy, the group of six people “is more dangerous” than a spying agency. “Spies are usually foreigners, these are Egyptians who betrayed the trust,” added the Judge. Reporters Without Borders has classified Egypt as 158 out of 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index.

Source: The Associated Press