Six people, including two Al-Jazeera journalists, have been sentenced to death by an Egyptian court for allegedly passing documents relating to national security to Qatar and the Doha-based TV network during the rule of Mohammed Morsi.
The former Islamist president was also sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was ousted by the military in July 2013 and has already been sentenced to death in another case. Saturday’s verdicts can be appealed.
The two Al-Jazeera employees – identified by the judge as news producer Alaa Omar Mohammed and news editor Ibrahim Mohammed Hilal – were sentenced in absentia along with Asmaa al-Khateib, who worked for Rasd, a media network widely suspected of links to Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood was banned and declared a terrorist group after Morsi was ousted.
The three other defendants sentenced to death on Saturday are documentary producer Ahmed Afify, EgyptAir cabin crew member Mohammed Keilany and academic Ahmed Ismail.
Egypt’s relations with Qatar have been fraught with tension since the overthrow of Morsi, who enjoyed the support of the tiny but wealthy Gulf state. Cairo also maintains that Al-Jazeera’s news coverage of Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East is biased in favor of militant Islamic groups.
Last year, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi pardoned two imprisoned journalists from the Al-Jazeera English news network.
Mohamed Fahmy, an Egyptian-born Canadian, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were arrested in December 2013. They were sentenced last year to three years in prison for airing what a court described as “false news” and coverage biased in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The prosecution of the two, along with Australian Peter Greste – deported in February last year – drew strong international condemnation.
Their long-running trial was entangled from the start with the wider political enmity between Egypt and Qatar.