CAIRO — An Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced six people, including two Al-Jazeera employees, to death for allegedly passing documents related to national security to Qatar and the Doha-based TV network during the rule of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.
Morsi, the case's top defendant, and two of his aides were also sentenced to 25 years in prison. Morsi and his secretary, Amin el-Sirafy, received an additional 15-year sentence for a lesser crime. El-Sirafy's daughter, Karima, was also sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Morsi was ousted by the military in July 2013 and has already been sentenced to death in another case. That death sentence and another two — life and 20 years in prison — are under appeal.
The two Al-Jazeera employees — identified by the judge as news producer Alaa Omar Mohammed and news editor Ibrahim Mohammed Hilal — were sentenced in absentia along with Asmaa al-Khateib, who worked for Rasd, a media network widely suspected of links to Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood was banned and declared a terrorist group after Morsi's ouster.
The three other defendants sentenced to death Saturday are documentary producer Ahmed Afify, EgyptAir cabin crew member Mohammed Keilany and academic Ahmed Ismail.
Egypt's relations with Qatar have been fraught with tension since the ouster of Morsi, who enjoyed the support of the tiny but wealthy Gulf state. Cairo also maintains that Al-Jazeera's news coverage of Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East is biased in favor of militant Islamic groups.
Last year, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi pardoned two imprisoned journalists from the Al-Jazeera English news network. Mohamed Fahmy, an Egyptian-born Canadian, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were arrested in December 2013. They were sentenced last year to three years in prison for airing what a court described as "false news" and coverage biased in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The prosecution of the two, along with Australian Peter Greste — deported in February last year — drew strong international condemnations.
Their long-running trial was entangled from the start with the wider political enmity between Egypt and Qatar following Morsi's ouster.