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Al Jazeera Journalists Sentenced To Jail In Egypt For 'Spreading False News'

29/08/2015 10:59 BST | Updated 29/08/2015 11:00 BST

Three Al Jazeera journalists have been sentenced to three years in prison for spreading "false news", the latest stage in a highly-politicised case that has been criticised worldwide by press freedom advocates and human rights activists.

The case began in December 2013, when Egyptian security forces raided the hotel suite used by Al-Jazeera at the time to report from Egypt.

They arrested Canadian-Egyptian Mohammed Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste and Baher Mohammed, later charging them with allegedly being part of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which authorities have declared a terrorist organisation, and airing falsified footage intended to damage national security.

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(Left to right) Baher Mohamed, Mohammed Fahmy and Peter Greste in an earlier hearing in March, 2014

The case caused outrage across the world and spawned the #JournalismIsNotACrime hashtag.

Judge Hassan Farid said he sentenced the men to prison because they had not registered with the country's journalist syndicate.

He also said the men brought in equipment without security officials' approval, had broadcast "false news" on Al Jazeera and used a hotel as a broadcasting point without permission.

It was not immediately clear how the sentence would affect the three men. Greste was deported in February and, speaking from Sydney, said he believed an Egyptian appeals court would overturn the verdict.

Mostefa Souag, Al Jazeera English acting director-general, also criticised the verdict, saying it "'defies logic and common sense."

"The whole case has been heavily politicised and has not been conducted in a free and fair manner," Souag said.

"There is no evidence proving that our colleagues in any way fabricated news or aided and abetted terrorist organisations and at no point during the long drawn out retrial did any of the unfounded allegations stand up to scrutiny."

Al Jazeera and the journalists have denied the allegations, saying they were simply reporting the news.

During the trial, prosecutors used news clips about an animal hospital with donkeys and horses, and another about Christian life in Egypt, as evidence they broke the law. Defence lawyers — and even the judge — dismissed the videos as irrelevant.

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Nonetheless, the three men were convicted on June 23, 2014, with Greste and Fahmy sentenced to seven years in prison and Mohammed to 10 years.

The verdict brought a landslide of international condemnation and calls for newly elected President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who as military chief led the overthrow of Morsi, to intervene. Egypt's Court of Cassation, the country's highest appeals court, later ordered their retrial, saying the initial proceedings were marred by violations of the defendants' rights.

Egypt deported Greste in February, though he remained charged in the case. Fahmy and Mohammed were later released on bail.

Fahmy was asked to give up his Egyptian nationality by Egyptian officials in order to qualify for deportation.

Greste tweeted the words "shocked, outraged, angry" were not enough to convey how the sentence had left him feeling.