After 12 hearings, an Egyptian court said Monday it would hand down a verdict in one week in the case of three journalists for the English-language service of the Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera who have been held for almost six months on terror-related charges.
Also Monday, the prosecutor announced that an Al Jazeera staffer held since August in a separate case would be released for medical reasons. Reporter Abdullah El Shamy, who worked for the broadcaster's Arabic affiliate, had been on a hunger strike since January, and photos circulated recently on social media showed him looking haggard and enfeebled.
Australian correspondent Peter Greste, Egyptian Canadian producer Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed were detained Dec. 29 by Egyptian authorities. All have strongly denied any wrongdoing. Seventeen other people, some with no connection to Al Jazeera, are also charged in the case and face sentencing Monday.
If convicted, the defendants could face three years to life in prison.
On Monday, Judge Mohamed Nagy listened for no less than four hours to defendants' lawyers as they gave their closing arguments. Fahmy, given permission to address the court directly, rejected prosecutors' accusations that the journalists had made false reports and harmed Egypt's security.
"News channels do not bring down countries as some people claim," he said.
Over months of hearings, the state produced virtually no evidence that would support the charges against the journalists. Human rights groups and media advocacy organizations have called the charges politically motivated.
Qatari-owned Al Jazeera has been a target of Egyptian ire in the wake of Qatar's vocal opposition to the deposing of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi last summer.