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Egypt to Try 20 Al Jazeera Journalists on Terror Links

  • Elizabeth Arrott

FILE - In this Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013 file photo, Mohammed Badr, a cameraman for Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr, appears at a court in Cairo, Egypt.

FILE - In this Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013 file photo, Mohammed Badr, a cameraman for Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr, appears at a court in Cairo, Egypt.

Egypt's top prosecutor says it will put 20 journalists from Al Jazeera on trial on charges relating to terrorism. It would be the first such trial of reporters since the government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group last month.

The chief prosecutor's office says 16 Egyptian and four foreign reporters are facing charges of belonging to a terrorist group, or helping spread false news that instills terror.

All of them work for the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network, which the Egyptian government and many of its supporters accuse of supporting ousted President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood base.

Al Jazeera has denied the accusations, and has repeatedly called for the release of its staff, saying the charges against them "totally unfounded."

While not named in the statement released Wednesday, Canadian reporter Mohamed Fahmy appears to be the chief defendant. He was not counted among the foreigners as he also is identified as an Egyptian national.

Fahmy is in detention in Cairo, along with Peter Greste, an award-wining Australian journalist. Greste recently wrote from his cell in Tora prison that the arrests have served as a chilling warning to others of what is acceptable reporting in Egypt.

The names of all the defendants were not given, nor are all in custody. Three other foreigners, identified as two Britons and a Dutch citizen, appear to be based in Qatar.

The Committee to Protect Journalists recently declared Egypt the world's third most dangerous country for reporters, following Syria and Iraq, noting the "stark political polarization" of the country.

That polarization has pitted the military-backed interim government against perceived supporters of the Brotherhood abroad as well.

"The Egyptian government is at war with Qatar ... which has given political asylum to well-known, notorious Egyptian terrorists," said political sociologist Said Sadek of the American University in Cairo.

It's a sign of the current political climate that does not bode well for the journalists, who have found support among fellow journalists and media freedom groups around the world.

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