Middle East

Egypt says 20 journalists 'facing charges'

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Media captionAl-Jazeera's Heather Allen says the leaked accusations "don't hold water"

Twenty journalists are facing charges in Egypt, prosecutors have said.

Sixteen are Egyptians accused of belonging to a "terrorist organisation" and four are foreigners accused of assisting it, or spreading false news.

The defendants include two Britons, a Dutch national and an Australian - believed to be the al-Jazeera correspondent Peter Greste.

Earlier, international news networks, including the BBC, called for the release of five al-Jazeera journalists.

The 16 Egyptian defendants face several allegations including belonging to a terrorist group, harming national unity and social peace, and using terrorism as a means to their goals.

The four foreigners are accused of collaborating with the Egyptians and providing them with information, equipment, and money as well as broadcasting false information and rumours to convince the international community that Egypt was undergoing a civil war.

Eight of the defendants are in detention, while 12 are on the run with arrest warrants issued against them, according to the prosecutor's statement.

No names are mentioned. But it said the four foreigners were correspondents for the Qatari al-Jazeera news network.

"We only know of five people in jail," said al-Jazeera's head of newsgathering Heather Allen.

"We don't know about the full charge. Things are not clear at the moment. We are still waiting for clarity."

Mr Greste's appeal against his detention without charge was denied on Wednesday by a Cairo court.

'Surprised'

The staff members and journalists of al-Jazeera were arrested in late December following interior ministry accusations of illegally broadcasting from a hotel suite.

Al-Jazeera has said the men were merely reporting the situation in Egypt.

Of the three arrested a month ago, Mr Greste is accused of collaborating with "terrorists" by talking to members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned by the military-backed government.

Al-Jazeera Cairo bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy, who is Egyptian-Canadian, and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed are accused of the more serious offence of membership of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The al-Jazeera network says it was "surprised" when its reporters were arrested by Egyptian authorities.

Two more of its staff - journalist Abdullah Elshamy and cameraman Mohammad Badr - were arrested in July and August.

Other news organisations, including the BBC, Sky and the Daily Telegraph newspaper issued a joint call for the immediate release of all journalists held in Egypt at a news conference on Wednesday.

One count puts the number at more than 40.

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