Middle East

Egypt trial for al-Jazeera journalists set for 20 February

Detained Al-Jazeera English journalists Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste (image courtesy Al Jazeera) Image copyright Al-Jazeera
Image caption Three al-Jazeera reporters were arrested at a Cairo hotel in late December

The judicial authorities in Egypt say the trial of 20 journalists, including four foreigners, will start next week.

They face charges including joining and aiding a terrorist organisation, and endangering national security.

Eight defendants, among them al-Jazeera's Egyptian-Canadian Cairo bureau chief Mohamed Adel Fahmy and the Australian former BBC correspondent Peter Greste, are currently in custody.

The others, including two British journalists, will be tried in absentia.

Al-Jazeera says only nine of those charged are members of staff and that they were merely reporting the situation in Egypt.

It has said the allegations are "absurd, baseless and false" and consistently denied aiding the Muslim Brotherhood, which was designated a terrorist group after the military ousted President Mohammed Morsi last year.

The Islamist movement renounced violence in the 1970s and said recently that it remained committed to peaceful political change in Egypt.

'Convenient target'

The 16 Egyptian journalists have been charged with belonging to a terrorist organisation and "harming national unity and social peace".

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Media captionSalah Negm, director of news, al-Jazeera English: "It is fabrication and nonsense, and intimidation and irritation of journalists"

The foreigners are accused of "collaborating with the Egyptians by providing them with money, equipment, information", and "airing false news aimed at informing the outside world that the country was witnessing a civil war".

Mr Greste, Mr Fahmy and a local Egyptian producer, Baher Mohamed were seized in a raid at a Cairo hotel in December. An al-Jazeera Arabic reporter, Abdullah Elshamy, has been detained since August, and is now on hunger strike.

Aside from Mr Greste, the foreigners are understood to be Rena Netjes of Dutch newspaper Parool and BNR radio, who fled Egypt last week, and British al-Jazeera reporters Dominic Kane and Sue Turton, who left the country last year. They have denounced the prosecutions.

The Egyptian government and its supporters have accused international news networks of bias in their reporting of human rights abuses against Morsi supporters and secular dissenters.

But on Monday Heather Allan, input manager at al-Jazeera English, told the Reuters news agency: "We just happen to be a very convenient target because we are watched widely there; I think we have the most name recognition."

"But [the authorities] have also put other journalists from local media in jail... All other voices are being shut down, no matter what that other opinion is until you are left with just one voice."

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