Middle East

Solidarity day for al-Jazeera journalists held in Egypt

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Media captionAs the protests began, footage was released of the journalists in court, held in a steel cage, as Nick Childs reports

People in cities across the world have been staging protests in support of journalists from the al-Jazeera network who are being detained in Egypt.

Al-Jazeera has called for a "global day of action" to demand the immediate release of the journalists, who include former BBC correspondent Peter Greste.

Mr Greste and eight other al-Jazeera staff went on trial last week on charges including aiding a terrorist organisation - the Muslim Brotherhood.

Six are being tried in absentia.

Another 11 people are also defendants in the case, but al-Jazeera denies the prosecution's claim that they work for it.

It has said the allegations are "absurd, baseless and false" and denied aiding the Brotherhood, on which the authorities launched a fierce crackdown after the military ousted President Mohammed Morsi in July.

The interim government and its supporters have accused international news networks of bias in their reporting of the ongoing political crisis.

'Humiliation, threats and rage'

Thursday's global day of action saw dozens of journalists take part in demonstrations, holding up placards saying "journalism is not a crime". Some also taped their mouths shut.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption People in 40 locations across the world, including Jakarta, staged vigils in solidarity
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Protesters in Martyrs' Square in Beirut and elsewhere held banners saying: "Journalism is not a crime"
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption In Sanaa, Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkol Karman demanded the release of the journalists
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption In Nairobi, Peter Greste was elected chairman of the Foreign Correspondents Association of East Africa

They demanded the release of Mr Greste, an Australian al-Jazeera English reporter, as well as Egyptian-Canadian Cairo bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed and Egyptian al-Jazeera Arabic reporter Abdallah Elshamy.

The first three were seized in a raid at a Cairo hotel on 29 December, while Mr Elshamy was detained in the Egyptian capital on 14 August.

Mr Fahmy and Mr Mohamed are among 16 Egyptians charged with belonging to a terrorist organisation and "harming national unity".

Mr Greste and three other foreigners who have left the country - British al-Jazeera reporters Dominic Kane and Sue Turton, and the Dutch newspaper and radio journalist Rena Netjes - are accused of "collaborating with the Egyptians by providing them with money, equipment, information", and "airing false news".

Those present at the start of the trial pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Al-Jazeera cameraman Mohamed Badr was released last week after seven months in detention. On Thursday, he spoke of the difficulties he endured in prison until he was acquitted of separate charges.

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Media captionThe BBC's Orla Guerin in Cairo says the journalists gave a "gripping account" of prison conditions at the start of their trial on 20 February

"I faced humiliation, threats and rage, since the very moment of the arrest, when the officer threatened to kill me when he knew that I was al-Jazeera staff," he said.

"They took me then to some place they call 'the fire pit', where I was welcomed by severe beatings."

Mostafa Souag, acting director-general of al-Jazeera Media Network, said that the network was delighted to have Mr Badr back, but that it looked forward to the release of the rest of its journalists.

"Journalists and individuals have been speaking out in their thousands worldwide, not just in support of al-Jazeera, but because they know that this situation is a threat to freedom of journalists everywhere," he added.

Gehad Khaled, the wife of Mr Elshamy, said he had been detained without charge for 197 days, and that he had been on hunger strike for five weeks in protest.

"Despite what Abdallah is suffering, his message to all his colleagues is to stick to reporting the truth no matter the consequences," she added.

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