Middle East

Egypt: Al-Jazeera journalists await trial verdict

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Media captionPeter Greste (L), Mohamed Fahmy (C) and Baher Mohamed (R) were accused of aiding a terrorist group

A court in Egypt will deliver verdicts in the case of three al-Jazeera journalists detained since December.

Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed are accused of spreading false news and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. They deny the charges.

The case has caused an international outcry, with rights groups saying the trial is politicised.

Australian PM Tony Abbott has appealed to Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi for Mr Greste's release.

Prosecutors have asked the judge to sentence the men to between 15 and 25 years in prison.

The court is trying a total of 20 people, including nine al-Jazeera employees.

'Vindictive persecution'

The BBC's Christian Fraser in Cairo says the evidence put forward earlier in court did nothing to support the serious charges brought.

The judge was shown photographs from Mr Greste's family holiday, a Sky Arabia report on cruelty to horses and a video of a press conference in Nairobi, our correspondent adds.

Tony Abbott said he told Mr Sisi that "as an Australian journalist, Peter Greste would not have been supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, he would have simply been reporting on the Muslim Brotherhood."

"The point I made was that in the long run, a free and vigorous media are good for democracy, good for security, good for stability," he added.

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Media captionPeter Greste's brother Michael says he is feeling "trepidation" ahead of a possible verdict

Mr Greste's brother Michael told the BBC that the family was trying "to be as optimistic as we can," but was filled with "an amount of trepidation" as they awaited the verdicts.

He said, while hoping for Mr Greste's release, "it might not happen - because it's no certainty, that's for sure."

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been visiting Cairo, said he spoke to Egyptian officials about "the essential role of a vibrant civil society, free press, rule of law and due process in a democracy".

Earlier this month, another Al-Jazeera journalist, Abdullah Elshamy, was released on medical grounds.

Al-Jazeera trial

  • Defendants include al-Jazeera's Cairo bureau chief, Mohamed Fahmy, who is Canadian-Egyptian, Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed and Australian correspondent Peter Greste
  • They deny charges of spreading false news and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood
  • The three men were seized in a raid at a Cairo hotel on 29 December and have been held at Cairo's Tora prison
  • Prosecutors have demanded sentences ranging from 15 to 25 years in prison
  • The court is trying a total of 20 people, including nine al-Jazeera employees

Who are the al-Jazeera journalists on trial in Egypt?

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 being tried in absentia - 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".

Al-Jazeera has said only nine of the 20 defendants are its employees. The others are reportedly students and activists.

The Qatar-based network is banned from operating inside Egypt after the authorities accused it of broadcasting reports sympathetic to former President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Jazeera has consistently denied the allegations.

Qatar has supported the Brotherhood and is unpopular with Egypt's government.

Rights group Amnesty International has previously described the trial as a "vindictive persecution of journalists for merely doing their jobs".

"The journalists appear to be pawns in the hands of the authorities in their ongoing dispute with Qatar," they said.

Egypt's authorities have cracked down harshly on Islamists and secular activists since Mr Morsi was removed by the military in July 2013.

Hundreds have been killed and thousands arrested.

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