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Egypt to put Al Jazeera journalists on trial

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-20

Egypt’s public prosecutor announced on Wednesday that 20 journalists, including four foreign nationals, face trial for allegedly assisting or belonging to a “terrorist organisation”.

The journalists include two Britons, a Dutch national and an Australian, who the public prosecutor said all worked for the Qatar-based television network, Al Jazeera. The Australian is believed to be Al Jazeera correspondent Peter Greste, who was detained in Egypt’s capital Cairo on December 29 alongside two other journalists, according to the company’s website.

In a statement, the prosecutor said the four had published “lies” that harmed the national interest and had supplied money, equipment and information to the 16 other defendants, who are all Egyptian. They were also accused of using unlicensed broadcasting equipment.

The 16 Egyptians are to face trial for belonging to a “terrorist organisation”, an apparent reference to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement, which has stood in opposition to the government ever since the army deposed the country’s former president, Mohammed Morsi, in July.

The charges are based on the government’s declaration last month of the Brotherhood as a terrorist group. Authorities have long depicted Al-Jazeera as biased towards Morsi and the Brotherhood.

Crackdown on Al Jazeera

Egyptian media have referred to those charged in the Al Jazeera case as “The Marriott Cell” after the hotel the journalists worked out of in Cairo.

Al Jazeera’s Cairo offices have been closed since July 3 when security forces raided them hours after the army ousted Morsi following mass protests against his rule.

Qatar was a strong financial backer of Egypt during Morsi’s year in power and the Gulf Arab state has vehemently criticised his overthrow and the ensuing crackdown on the Brotherhood.

The charges against the journalists are likely to further strain ties between Doha and Cairo.

Human rights groups have condemned the arrests of journalists in Egypt.

“There is a concerted effort under way to squeeze out any independent observers, from activists to journalists to non-governmental organisations,” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa programme, said last week.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-01-29

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