Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste learns fate in Egyptian court

After six months in an Egyptian prison and 12 court sessions in which the prosecution’s case has veered from the farcical to the irrelevant, it is judgment day for Australian journalist Peter Greste and his colleagues.

Facing a sentence of seven to 15 years for conspiring with the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood to falsify news to defame Egypt, Greste, a foreign correspondent for al-Jazeera English, his bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy and producer Baher Mohamed, will learn of the court’s verdict on Monday night Australian time.

Follow our live coverage of proceedings here.

After six bleak months in an Egyptian prison and 12 court sessions in which the prosecution’s case has veered from the farcical to the irrelevant, it is judgment day for Australian journalist Peter Greste and his colleagues, writes Fairfax's Middle East correspondent Ruth Pollard.

Facing a sentence of seven to 15 years for conspiring with the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood to falsify news to defame Egypt, Greste, a foreign correspondent for al-Jazeera English, his bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy and producer Baher Mohamed, will learn of the court’s verdict on Monday evening Australian time.

Read Ruth's full preview here.

In a case that has drawn condemnation from human rights groups and press freedom organisations around the world, Greste and his two al-Jazeera colleagues have been swept up in Egypt’s ruthless security operation against the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters.

The country’s controversial anti-protest law has seen as many as 41,000 people jailed in just 10 months, with hundreds sentenced to death.

Greste and his colleagues are accused of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to defame Egypt through their reporting.

Just four days before their arrest, the Egyptian Government announced it considered the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation. Six months earlier, the Brotherhood was the government in Egypt.

"We had been doing exactly as any responsible, professional journalist would – recording and trying to make sense of the unfolding events with all the accuracy, fairness and balance that our imperfect trade demands," Greste wrote in a letter back in January.

"We were not alone in our reporting, but our arrest has served as a chilling warning to others … Anyone who applauds the state is seen as safe and deserving of liberty. Anything else is a threat that needs to be crushed."

It is difficult to know what time the court's verdict will be handed down. Proceeding are due to start at 5pm Australian time, however this case is prone to courtroom delays.

Please keep checking in, as we will be sure to update the blog as the action unfolds.

Australian politicians have stood in solidarity in their support for Greste and his colleagues, with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten saying there's "no daylight" between Labor and Liberals on the issue.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says she has been in talks with Egypt's new Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri. "I hope we will be able to get Peter Greste home as soon as possible," she told the Press Gallery last week.

The nightmare began on December 29, when Greste and Fahmy were arrested in a late night raid on Jazeera’s makeshift offices in Cairo. Mohamed was arrested in his home nearby.

They have since spent 177 days in a 3x4m cell, locked down for 23 hours each day, and have been denied access to reading materials and adequate medical treatment for extended periods of their incarceration.

Fairfax's Middle East correspondent Ruth Pollard will be tweeting live from the Cairo courtroom. 

Judge Mohamed Nagi Shehata is one-and-a-half hours late to court. But journalists who have been covering the trial say they aren't too surprised by this ...

Journalists present at the al-Jazeera trial say today is the biggest turnout of diplomats and journalists they have seen so far.

Greste's family have been in the media spotlight since the December arrest. His parents, Lois and Juris Greste say their son must be released because there has been "no evidence presented against him".

His brothers Andrew and Michael are in the Cairo courtroom today.

If this all seems a little confusing, do not fret. Ruth Pollard has put together a timeline detailing Egypt's "dangerous year" and the events that led to the al-Jazeera journalists' arrest.

June 30: Mass public protests across Egypt call for the resignation of the Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Mursi, who was elected in July 2012.

July 3: The army, led by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, force Mursi to stand down, arresting him and taking him to an undisclosed location. He is now facing charges that attract the death penalty.

July 3: The offices of al-Jazeera Mubasher, the local Egyptian channel, are raided by Egyptian security police.

August 14: After weeks of mass protests and demonstrations from supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Mursi, the Egyptian Army forcibly disperses a protest camp at Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque. More than 1000 people are killed and many more arrested.

August 14: A state of emergency is declared across Egypt, with a strict night time curfew enforced.

August-September: A series of senior and low level Muslim Brotherhood leaders are arrested. Thousands of protesters rounded up on the streets.

October 30: Police arrest senior Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam El-Erian, who had been in hiding since August 14.

November 13: The government declares an end to the state of emergency.

December 25: The interim, military-backed Egyptian Government declares the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organisation.

December 29: Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed are arrested.

January 29: The three journalists, along with 17 others, are formally charged with colluding with the Muslim Brotherhood to produce false news to smear Egypt’s reputation internationally.

February 21: First hearing - the journalists are denied bail, kept in their 3X4m cell in Tora Prison for 23 hours a day. There have been 12 court sessions since.

June 23: Verdict announced.

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance has condemned the verdict, saying:

"The verdict of the court, despite the lack of evidence and bizarre court proceedings over more than a dozen hearings, is an appalling attack on press freedom and carries an implicit threat to all media working in Egypt".

Full statement here.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is set to hold a press conference on the verdict in five minutes.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Greens Leader Christine Milne and the Greste family's local MP Jane Prentice, among other politicians, have already begun sharing their thoughts via Twitter.

Julie Bishop: "The Australian government is shocked at the verdict in the Peter Greste case. We are deeply dismayed by the fact that a sentence has been imposed and we are appalled by the severity of it."

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is "bitterly disappointed with the outcome" and says the government plans to initiate contact with the Egyptian government in hopes intervening.

"Peter Greste is a well-respected Australian journalist, he was in Egypt to report on the political situation, he was not there to support the Muslim Brotherhood," Julie Bishop said.

"We will now initiate contact with the highest levels of the Egyptian government to see whether we can gain some kind of intervention from the new government and find out whether intervention is indeed possible at this stage."

"Freedom and freedom of the press is fundamental to a democracy and we are deeply concerned that this verdict is part of a broader attempt to muzzle the media freedom that upholds democracies around the world."

"We are all shocked by this verdict, and that includes the prime minister," she said.

Full transcript of Julie Bishop's statement on Peter Greste:

"The Australian government is shocked at the verdict in the Peter Greste case. We are deeply dismayed by the fact that a sentence as been imposed. We are appalled by the severity of it. 

"It is hard to credit that court in this case could have reached this conclusion.

"The Australian government simply can not understand it based on the evidence presented in this case.

"Peter Greste is a respected Australian journalist, he was not there to support the Muslim brotherhood

"We respect the outcome of the recent elections in Egypt and 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.

"I have spoken at length with Peter Greste’s parents. They are considering their legal options, including appeal options.

"We do not know how long an appeal process will take, but in the meantime, we will provide whatever consular assistance we can.

"We understand there have been some very difficult times and there has been a great deal of turmoil in Egypt. But this kind of verdict does nothing for Egypt’s claim to be transitioning to democracy.

"The Australia government urges Egypt to reflect on what message is being sent to the world.

"We are deeply concerned that this verdict is part of a broader attempt to muzzle the press freedom that upholds democracies around the world. 

"I can not think what more we could have done. I am bitterly disappointed by the outcome."

Al-Jazeera has called for the verdict to be overturned.

"There is no justification whatsoever in the detention of our three colleagues for even one minute. To have detained them for 177 Days is an outrage. To have sentenced them defies logic, sense, and any semblance of justice," managing director Al Anstey said.

The hashtags #PeterGreste, #Sentenced7, #FreeAJstaff and #Egypt are all trending in Australia as social media erupts with commentary from journalists, politicians and citizens from around the world.

Many of these posts are accompanied by the slogan "journalism is not a crime".

Among the commentary are numerous calls for Prime Minister Tony Abbott to intervene.

Fairfax Media understands that the Abbott government regards a presidential pardon as the most hopeful chance of securing Mr Greste's release.

Video of the court's reaction as the verdict was read out.

Social media has been inundated with posts objecting the Egyptian court's ruling, as Peter Greste is sentenced to seven years behind bars.

Peter Greste’s parents Lois and Juris were watching the verdict via social media.

A family friend described their reaction as "devastated", crying out "What for? What for?" as they learned of their son's fate.

They plan to speak to the media at 10am on Tuesday.

For Ruth Pollard's full wrap-up of the verdict, click here.

The story Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste learns fate in Egyptian court first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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