An Egyptian court has sentenced three Al Jazeera journalists to seven years each in prison on charges of supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood and spreading false news, in a case that has drawn international condemnation.
The three sentenced Monday in Cairo include Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, who was given an extra three years on another charge.
Speaking to reporters in Baghdad on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry harshly criticized the ruling
a day after speaking with Egyptian leaders in Cairo.
"Today's conviction is obviously a chilling and draconian sentence," Kerry said.
In Geneva, United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay, in a statement,
called for the reporters's release, accusing Egypt of "crushing" the media. She said she was shocked and alarmed by the verdicts and heavy jail sentences handed down to three Al-Jazeera journalists.
Pillay's statement said media in Egypt should be "protected not prosecuted." The commissioner urged authorities to promptly release them and other media workers imprisoned for doing their job.
Egypt rejected foreign criticism of its judicial system in a statement Monday, saying it considered the remarks interference in its internal affairs.
Al Jazeera has always denied the charges against its employees.
The network's acting General Director, Mostefa Souag, called the verdict "shocking" and said Al Jazeera will continue its international campaign to free its journalists.
Al Jazeera English Managing Director Al Anstey said the sentences were given despite "not a shred of evidence" to support the charges and that the only sensible outcome is for the verdict to be overturned.
Officials at The Hague and in London have summoned the respective Egyptian ambassadors over the sentences.
In Canberra, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the decision does not support Egypt's "claim to be on a transition to democracy."
"The Australian government urges the new government of Egypt to reflect on what message is being sent to the world about the situation in Egypt," Bishop said. "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."
Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed were arrested in December at a Cairo hotel where they were working after Egyptian authorities closed the Qatar-based television network's bureau.
Last week, Egypt freed another Al Jazeera journalist who spent 10 months in prison without being charged. Prosecutors ordered the release of Abdullah Elshamy for health reasons after a hunger strike that he began in January to protest his detention.
Egyptian authorities have carried out a crackdown on the Brotherhood since Sissi, then the army chief, led the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi last July.
The crackdown included violently dispersing protests and arresting many of the Brotherhood's leaders.
Since Morsi's ouster, Egypt has drafted a new constitution and voted Sissi into office, and plans to hold parliamentary elections later this year.
(VOA correspondent Lisa Shlein contributed to this story from Geneva, Switzerland.)