Obama: Egypt should release Al-Jazeera journalists

Al-Jazeera journalists Peter Greste (L), Mohamed Fadel Fahmy (C) and Baher Mohamed listen to the verdict from the defendants cage during their initial trial in June 2014 in Cairo (AFP Photo/Khaled Desouki) (AFP/File)

Washington (AFP) - US President Barack Obama called Wednesday for the release of three Al-Jazeera journalists sentenced to prison in Egypt for allegedly defaming the country.

Speaking at the end of a US-Africa summit, Obama said that the United States insists on the right of journalists to practice their trade as a critical element of civil society.

"In the specific issue of the Al-Jazeera journalists, we have been clear both publicly and privately, they should be released," Obama said at a news conference.

Australian journalist Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed were convicted in June of aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood and spreading false news that portrayed Egypt as being in a state of "civil war."

Greste and Fahmy received seven-year terms, while Mohamed was jailed for 10 years, in a case that sparked international outrage.

"The devil guided them to use journalism and direct it toward activities against this nation," the court said in a statement explaining its verdict.