An Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced six people to death, including two Al Jazeera journalists, who were accused of leaking state secrets to Qatar.
The case of jailed former president Mohamed Morsi, who is also charged for espionage for Qatar, was however, adjourned.
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The judgment will either be approved or reduced in June after consultations with Egypt’s mufti, the highest Sunni religious leader in the country. The court may or may not consider the mufti’s feedback.
Egyptian law requires the mufti to sign off on death sentences. His opinion is not binding but is usually respected by courts.
The defendants include Ibrahim Helal, former director of news at Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel. He is not in Egypt and was tried in absentia.
Another, also tried in absentia, is Jordanian citizen Alaa Omar Mohamed Sablan, identified by the prosecution as an Al Jazeera journalist.
Asmaa Mohamed al-Khatib, identified as a reporter with the pro-Brotherhood Rassd news outlet, was also sentenced to death in absentia. Al Jazeera has long denounced Egypt’s treatment of its journalists with the hashtag #journalismisnotacrime.
The defendants have the right to appeal the verdict. Morsi has already been sentenced to life and 20 years in prison in three separate trials.
Al Jazeera rejects Egypt’s allegations that the network was collaborating with Morsi’s elected government.
Overthrown in 2013
Muslim Brotherhood-backed Morsi was overthrown by the military in July 2013 after mass protests a year after he took office as the first democratically elected leader.
Senior leaders in the Muslim Brotherhood and their followers have been sentenced to death in different cases since military leader Abdel Fatah el-Sisi overthrew Morsi’s government.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which has since been banned, has dismissed the sentences and other harsh verdicts as politically motivated.
The Egyptian government has repeatedly said that the country’s courts operate independently.
“I believe that this is a weak point in the Egyptian system, which might bring catastrophes to the whole country, especially when it comes to freedoms and human rights,” Al Jazeera’s Middle East Analyst Yahia Ghanem said on the judgment.