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Egyptian court sentences Al Jazeera presenter in absentia to 15 years in prison

Ahmed Taha was accused of spreading 'false news' after interviewing Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former presidential candidate in December 2018
Ahmed Taha, an Egyptian journalist and news presenter working with Al Jazeera Media Network since 2011 (Supplied)

An Egyptian journalist and presenter for Al Jazeera has been sentenced to 15 years in absentia for hosting and interviewing former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh.

Ahmed Taha, a journalist and news presenter working with Al Jazeera Media Network since 2011, interviewed Aboul Fotouh in December 2018 to discuss Egypt's political scene and its future ahead of the April 2019 general election.

Taha, who is currently hosting the al-Masayiya news show on Al Jazeera's Mubasher channel, told Middle East Eye that he heard about the court ruling from the media and later received a picture of it, which accused him of "spreading false news" while hosting Aboul Fotouh in his al-Masayiya show in 2018.

"I've not visited Egypt since 2013. Most Egyptian journalists who work for Al Jazeera cannot visit Egypt, and we've four of our colleagues still detained in prisons without charges," he told MEE, when asked if the ruling will hinder him from travelling to Egypt.

A picture of the ruling seen by MEE says that both Taha and Aboul Fotouh had "intentionally" spread "false statements, news and rumours" about Egypt's internal affairs, with the aim of weakening "the prestige of the state" and encouraging violent acts.

The court decision added that Aboul Fotouh had also spread "false" news and rumours during an interview on BBC, accusing the Egyptian state of implementing an enforced disappearance policy against its opponents.

Taha told MEE that he had no lawyer representing him in the case, in which the state prosecutors accused 15 Egyptians, who are politicians, civil society workers and journalists of spreading false news.

An 'irrational verdict'

Along with Aboul Fotouh, Mahmoud Ezzat, the former acting general guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, and seven others were also sentenced to 15 years in prison on Sunday, while Mohammed al-Qassas and Muaz al-Sharqawi were sentenced to 10 years.

Taha told MEE that al-Masayiya is a round-up news show, featuring different topics and countries and is not dedicated to Egypt. 

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In a statement on Monday, Al Jazeera Media Network condemned the Egyptian court ruling.

"[Al Jazeera] condemns this irrational verdict which it considers unjustified and which it believes is taken as part of an ongoing campaign launched by the Egyptian authorities against Al Jazeera and its journalists," said the network.

The Qatari-sponsored channel had also called on the Egyptian authorities to release four of its journalists, Hisham Abdel Aziz, Bahaa El-Din Ibrahim, Ahmed Al-Najdi and Rabie Al-Sheikh, who are currently all detained without charges.

In July 2013, Egyptian security forces stormed the Al Jazeera office in Cairo and banned its crew from working in the country, almost two months after Abdul Fattah el-Sisi ousted president Mohammed Morsi from power in a coup d'etat.