20 February 2014

Egypt: Al Jazeera Journalists to Appear in Egypt Court

Photo: Amru Salahuddien/Xinhua
Police cracks down on protesters (file photo).

Twenty journalists, including those from the Al-Jazeera news agency, will go on trial in Egypt Thursday in a case that many say highlights the military-backed interim government's crackdown on dissent and free speech.

The journalists, including four foreigners, face charges including spreading "false information" about Egypt and supporting or belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government sees as a terrorist group.

Juris Greste, the father of one of the accused journalists, the Australian Peter Greste, told reporters he hopes his son will soon be released.

"Of course, as far as we are concerned, he's entirely and completely innocent and he should be either back home here or at his usual job in Nairobi," said the elder Greste.

Al-Jazeera is based in Qatar, where the government supports the Brotherhood and ex-President Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted by the military in July. Some have claimed the group has provided biased news coverage of Egypt.

The broadcaster denies the accusation, and said the charges against its journalists are "absurd, baseless and false."

The case against the Al Jazeera journalists has attracted widespread international attention from fellow journalists, rights groups and others concerned about the state of press freedom in Egypt.

Human Rights Watch on Thursday said the latest charges are politicized and show "how fast the space for dissent in Egypt is evaporating."

Three of the journalists, including the Australian Greste and Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, were arrested in December from where they were broadcasting at a Cairo hotel.

Authorities said they were working without accreditation. They also accused them of editing footage "to give the appearance that Egypt is in a civil war" and belonging to and possessing materials that supported a terrorist organization.

Since Morsi's ouster in July, the government has rounded up thousands of Brotherhood supporters and sympathizers. Over 1,000 have also been killed in clashes with police, including several hundred Islamists during the break-up of a sit-in.

The Brotherhood has held regular protests against the military coup, which followed mass protests against Morsi, but it denies taking part in a series of bombings and other attacks, which have mostly targeted security forces.

The award-winning Australian, Peter Greste, has written several letters from prison, which is said to be ridden with bugs and rats. He has said the government will not tolerate any critical voices and that the jail is filling with those who challenge the state.

Only eight of the 20 accused journalists will appear before court Thursday. The rest are not in custody. This includes Sue Turton and Dominic Kane from Britain and Rena Netjes from the Netherlands, who has never worked for Al Jazeera.

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