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Egypt sentences 3 Al Jazeera reporters to 3 years in prison

Baher Mohamed, a journalist with Al Jazeera English, in the court room on Saturday in Cairo. Credit Asmaa Waguih/Reuters

Baher Mohamed, a journalist with Al Jazeera English, in the court room on Saturday in Cairo. Credit Asmaa Waguih/Reuters

A judge in Egypt today delivered a verdict in the trial of three news reporters from Al Jazeera English. They are sentenced to three years in prison, on charges widely believed to be politically motivated and otherwise baseless.

From the New York Times account:

The verdict on Saturday was especially stunning because Egyptian officials had repeatedly signaled that they viewed the trial as a nuisance that had brought unwanted scrutiny of the government. The families of the journalists, Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste, said they had expected that the men would either be exonerated on Saturday or sentenced to time already served.

But instead, the judge, Hassan Farid, upheld what human rights advocates said was among many baseless accusations leveled during the journalists’ long legal odyssey: that they had “broadcast false news” about Egypt on Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera Journalists Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison in Egypt” [nyt]

Outrage at the verdict is widespread, and sparked a flood of social media condemnation.

Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney (who is also the wife of actor George Clooney) represented Canadian national Mohammed Fahmy, one of the three jailed reporters. The men were first charged in 2013 for allegedly being a part of the Muslim Brotherhood, and airing faked footage with the intent of harming national security.

"The verdict today sends a very dangerous message in Egypt," said Clooney after the ruling. "It sends a message that journalists can be locked up for simply doing their job, for telling the truth and reporting the news."

Al Jazeera fixes its protections for whistleblowers

Back in June, the Electronic Frontier Foundation analyzed the terms and conditions offered by the whistleblower sites launched by the WSJ and Al Jazeera, concluding that they offered no protection to confidential sources. Now, Al Jazeera has taken their advice to heart and substantially improved their terms.
Al-Jazeera Still Reserves the Right to Sell You Out, But At Least It Has Your Back
Before the revisions, the Transparency Unit noted it could "share personally identifiable information in response to a law enforcement agency's request, or where we believe it is necessary." The terms provided no explanation about how Al-Jazeera determined when to disclose information or who made that decision. The TOU now explains Al-Jazeera "may disclose personally identifiable information about you to third parties in limited circumstance[s], including: (1) with your consent; or (2) when we have a good faith belief it is required by law, such as pursuant to a subpoena or other judicial or administrative order."

We’re also glad to see Al-Jazeera making an effort to be transparent about when users’ data is sought by the government and promising to fight for users' rights in court. AJTU promises that if "required by law to disclose the information that you have submitted, we will attempt to provide you with notice (unless we are prohibited) that a request for your information has been made in order to give you an opportunity to object to the disclosure." And AJTU claims it "will independently object to requests for access to information about users of our site that we believe to be improper."

Al-Jazeera Follows EFF's Whistleblower Recommendations