20 journalists face trial on terror charges in Egypt

CAIRO -- Egypt is set to put 20 journalists, including four foreigners, on trial Thursday on terror-related charges in a case with ominous implications for freedom of expression under the military-backed interim government.

Many rights groups describe the case as the latest episode of oppression against journalists criticizing the military and the interim Cabinet in general and those allegedly sympathizing with the Muslim Brotherhood in particular.

Eight of the 20 reporters are currently detained.

The Egyptian defendants are accused of joining the terrorist-designated Muslim Brotherhood, while all of the reporters are charged with falsifying news and broadcasting illegally in order to tarnish Egyptian authorities' image after the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in July. 

Nine of the 20 defendants work for Al Jazeera's Arabic and English broadcasts. A court order banned Al Jazeera's Egyptian affiliate last year. If convicted, defendants could face 15 years in prison. 

The defendants include three journalists working for Al Jazeera's English broadcast: Peter Greste, an Australian; Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, an Egyptian holding Canadian citizenship who served as the channel's Cairo bureau chief; and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed.

The three journalists were detained Dec. 29 and kept in custody before prosecutors brought charges against them Jan. 29. They were among those present in court Thursday.

British reporters Dominic Kane and Sue Turton and Dutch freelance journalist Rena Netjes managed to flee Egypt before charges were brought against them.

Egypt's ties with Qatar, which owns the Al Jazeera network, have been severely hampered, with the Gulf state voicing criticism of the Egyptian government since Morsi's disposal.

At a time when the majority of Arabic-language broadcasters are openly supporting the Egyptian government's crackdown on the Brotherhood and its members, Al Jazeera's Egyptian affiliate was contributing its airtime to covering anti-army demonstrations, and it was accused of exaggerating numbers of protesters late last year.


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Hassan is a special correspondent.

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