An Egyptian court's decision Monday to sentence three Al-Jazeera English journalists to seven years in prison drew a sharp rebuke from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
"Today's conviction and chilling, draconian sentences by the Cairo Criminal Court of three Al Jazeera journalists and 15 others in a trial that lacked many fundamental norms of due process, is a deeply disturbing set-back to Egypt's transition," Kerry said in a statement. "Injustices like these simply cannot stand."
Kerry said he raised his objections with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, making "very clear our deep concerns about these convictions and sentences."
Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohammed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohammed were convicted of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which the authorities have declared a terrorist organization.
"I swear they will pay for this," Fahmy shouted angrily from the defendants' cage after the sentences were announced. Greste raised his fists in the air.
"They just ruined a family," said Fahmy's brother Adel, who was attending the session. He said they would appeal the verdict but added that he had little faith in the system. "Everything is corrupt," he said.
The three were arrested in December as part of a sweeping crackdown on Islamist supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi. Monday's verdict was seen as a blow to freedom of expression. The managing director of Qatar-based Al-Jazeera English, Al Anstey, said in a statement that "not a shred of evidence was found to support the extraordinary and false charges against them."
"To have detained them for 177 days is an outrage. To have sentenced them defies logic, sense, and any semblance of justice," he said.
The three received sentences of seven years each in a maximum security prison. Mohammed, the team's producer, received an extra three years because of additional charges of possession of ammunition. Al-Jazeera has said that charge was rooted in a spent shell found in his possession — a souvenir he'd picked up from protests.
The judge also handed 10-year sentences to two British journalists and a Dutch journalist who were not in Egypt and being tried in absentia. Two defendants among more than a dozen others were acquitted, including the son of Mohammed el-Beltagy, a senior figure in the Muslim Brotherhood.
Kerry stressed that the Egypt's long-term success depends on human rights and responsible governance.
"Egyptian society is stronger and sustainable when all of its citizens have a say and a stake in its success," Kerry said. "Today's verdicts fly in the face of the essential role of civil society, a free press, and the real rule of law."
Contributing: Associated Press