An Egyptian court sentenced three Al-Jazeera reporters to three years in prison on Saturday, in a shock ruling following global demands for their acquittal.

The ruling was the latest turn in a winding 20-month legal battle in which journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste had already spent more than 400 days in prison.

The case has been a high-profile illustration of the erosion of media freedom in Egypt in the two years since the military removed the country’s elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, from power.

One of the defendants, Australian correspondent Peter Greste, was convicted in absentia on Saturday, despite having been released from prison and deported in February.

His colleagues Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian national who has renounced his Egyptian citizenship, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were present in the Cairo courtroom. They had been free on bail during the trial, but were quickly taken into custody after the verdict, as their families gasped and shouted disapproval of the decision.

The three men were originally arrested in December 2013 and charged with broadcasting false reports and colluding with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now outlawed as a terrorist group in Egypt.

They were detained following a raid on a Marriott hotel in Cairo. Footage of security agents interrogating Fahmy and Greste during the raid was later broadcast on television.

They remained in custody through a first trial and were sentenced to between seven and 10 years in prison in June 2014. They were granted a retrial after an appeal in January and released on bail, while Mr. Greste was deported.

The Al Jazeera trial has drawn international condemnation from human and journalists’ rights groups and focused attention on Egypt’s judiciary, which has been accused by the defendants and legal analysts of acting to suppress popular dissent on behalf of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s administration.

Qatar-based Al-Jazeera denounced the verdict against the trio, who were accused of broadcasting false news, as a deliberate attack on press freedom.

Tags : Al JazeeraAl Jazeera EnglishAssociated PressCairoEgyptIslamismJournalistMohamed MorsiMuslim BrotherhoodPeter Greste

The author sandeepnair