Cairo: Australian journalist Peter Greste and his two al-Jazeera colleagues have been found guilty by an Egyptian court and sentenced to seven years in prison for producing false news to defame Egypt.
There were angry scenes as the verdict was announced to the courtroom packed with family, diplomats from Australia, Canada, Britain, the Netherlands and Latvia, and dozens of local and international journalists.
Legal experts say the journalists can appeal against the verdict but such appeals can take significant time to even be heard.
Greste’s parents Lois and Juris watched the sentencing on social media and a family friend said they were ‘‘devastated’’. They planned to speak to the media at 10am on Tuesday.
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said the government was shocked at the verdict.
‘‘We are deeply dismayed by the fact that a sentence has been imposed and we are appalled by the severity of it,’’ she said.
"[The government] will now initiate contact at the highest levels in the new Egyptian government to see whether we can gain some kind of intervention from the new government."
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor would support the government's efforts to free Greste.
"Peter Greste has been sentenced to seven years in Egyptian jail, simply for reporting the news.
"Our thoughts tonight are with Peter and his family – and Labor stands ready to assist the government in every effort to secure his release."
Prosecutors claimed the three al-Jazeera journalists – Greste, a correspondent, along with Egyptian-Canadian Cairo bureau chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed – used unlicensed equipment to broadcast false information to defame and destabilise Egypt.
Fahmy and Mohamed were further accused of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood. All deny the charges as do the other 17 people named in the list released by authorities in February.
Al-Jazeera says only nine are staff members. One of those named, the Dutch journalist Rena Netjes, has never worked for the network.
She was forced to flee Egypt when she discovered her name was on the list because she had met Mohamed Fahmy in the lobby of the Marriott Hotel in Cairo.
Greste and Fahmy were arrested on December 29 in a night-time raid on al-Jazeera’s makeshift offices in the luxury Marriott Hotel in Cairo, where the network was forced to move after the station was raided by authorities last year. Mohamed was arrested in his Cairo home. They were soon dubbed in the Egyptian media the “Marriott Terror Cell”.
Their six-month detention has drawn international condemnation from human rights and press freedom groups, and from the Australian, US and Canadian governments.
Yet nothing would make Egypt back down from its campaign against the Qatari-owned network. The military-backed interim government says al-Jazeera was the mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood – the movement behind the deposed president Mohamed Mursi that Egypt designated a terrorist organisation on December 25.
“They broadcast these scenes through the Qatari Jazeera channel to assist the terrorist group in achieving its purposes of influencing international public opinion,” the charge sheet reads. “The technical reports revealed that this media material contains video clips that were altered and edited, using a high-tech program and editing devices, and that these scenes are false and damage the country’s national security.”
But the court was presented with no such evidence.
Greste and his colleagues are just three people caught up in a giant government-sponsored security crackdown. As many as 40,000 people are believed to have been arrested since the Muslim Brotherhood-backed government of Dr Mursi was forced from power by the military, with, it says, the backing of the Egyptian people. Hundreds have been sentenced to death.