Al Jazeera journalists on trial in Egypt over Brotherhood claims
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An Egypt court ruled Thursday to adjourn the trial of 20 Al Jazeera journalists, including several foreigners, until March 5. The group is accused of supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood in a case that has been criticised as media censorship.
The trial of journalists from the Qatar-based channel comes against a backdrop of strained relations between Cairo and Doha, which is a backer of ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, and of his Muslim Brotherhood party.
Prosecutors allege that the defendants, including award-winning Australian reporter Peter Greste and Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, manipulated footage and supported the Brotherhood, which was banned after Morsi was deposed.
In all, 20 journalists are on trial, but only eight of them are in custody.
Prosecutors say the journalists falsely portrayed Egypt as being in a state of "civil war," possibly a reference to the broadcaster's coverage of a crackdown that has killed more than 1,000 Morsi supporters in street clashes.
The government has designated the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation, although the group denies involvement in a spate of bombings since Morsi's overthrow.
‘Effort to frighten journalists’
Al Jazeera, which says only nine of the defendants are on its staff, has denied the charges.
Greste, a former BBC correspondent, and Fahmy, who worked with CNN before joining Al Jazeera, were arrested in a Cairo hotel in December.
The other foreign journalists listed in the indictment are abroad and will be tried in absentia.
They are Britons Sue Turton and Dominic Kane and Dutch journalist Rena Netjes, who does not work for the channel.
US authorities, press freedom groups and scores of journalists have protested against the detention of the reporters.
On Wednesday, the International Press Institute urged the court to release the journalists.
It said a fact-finding trip suggested that "security forces have been systematically accusing journalists of unsupported charges of aiding terrorists or spreading 'false news' in an effort to frighten all journalists and hinder independent news-gathering".
In a letter written from prison that was published last month by Al Jazeera, Greste described what he sees as a lack of press freedom in Egypt.
"The state will not tolerate hearing from the Muslim Brotherhood or any other critical voices," he wrote. "The prisons are overflowing with anyone who opposes or challenges the government."
None of the arrested journalists appeared to have been working with press accreditation.
Egyptian officials insist the channel has been working for the benefit of Qatar, a strong supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood that has even hosted some of its members who have fled the crackdown.
"It is a Qatari network and Qatar is the only Gulf Arab country supporting the Muslim Brotherhood," a high-ranking official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
In the past, Al Jazeera, especially its Arabic-language service, has come under criticism for allegedly biased reporting in the Arab world.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
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