February 20, 2014
Egypt's Trial of Al-Jazeera Journalists Adjourned
An Egyptian court has temporarily adjourned the trial of 20 journalists, including three from the al-Jazeera television channel, in a case that many say highlights the military-backed interim government's crackdown on dissent and free speech.
The journalists, including four foreigners, are charged with spreading "false information" about Egypt and supporting or belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government sees as a terrorist group.
Trial was adjourned Thursday until next month.
Juris Greste, the father of one of the defendants, al-Jazeera's Peter Greste, an Australian, told reporters he hopes his son will be released soon.
"Of course, as far as we are concerned, he's entirely and completely innocent," Juris Greste said in Brisbane. "He should be either back home here or at his usual job [for al-Jazeera] in Nairobi."
Al-Jazeera is based in Qatar, whose rulers support the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt's ex-president Mohamed Morsi. Since Mr. Morsi was ousted by the Egyptian military in July, the network's coverage of events in Cairo and other parts of the country has been criticized as biased in favor of the Brotherhood. The broadcaster's executives have defended their coverage, and denounced the charges against their journalists are "absurd, baseless and false."
Egypt's prosecution of journalists as supporters of terrorism has attracted widespread international attention from fellow journalists, human-rights groups and others concerned about the state of press freedom in Egypt.
Al-Jazeera has called on people worldwide to participate in a global day of action on February 27 to show solidarity with the journalists and pressure Egypt for their release.
Human Rights Watch said Thursday that the latest charges are political in nature, and that they demonstrate "how fast the space for dissent in Egypt is evaporating."
Three of the journalists who were arrested - among them Greste and Egyptian-Canadian national Mohamed Fadel Fahmy - were taken into custody in December at a Cairo hotel where they were working, following Egyptian authorities' closure of al-Jazeera's bureau there.
Authorities said they were working without accreditation, and accused them of editing video "to give the appearance that Egypt is in a civil war." Other charges against them include belonging to and possessing materials that supported a terrorist organization.
Since Mr. Morsi's ouster in July, the government has rounded up thousands of Brotherhood supporters and sympathizers. Over a thousand have also been killed in clashes with police, including several hundred Islamists who were killed when security forces broke up a sit-in demonstration in the Egyptian capital.
Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters have held almost daily protests against Egypt's military leadership since the coup that ousted Mr. Morsi. The military said the intervention was necessary because weeks of mass protests against Mr. Morsi and his policies were destabilizing the country. The Muslim Brotherhood has denied any role in in a series of bombings and other attacks against security forces since July.
Peter Greste has written letters from his prison cell denouncing the military-led government's refusal to tolerate any criticism, and he has noted the jail is becoming crowded by detainees picked up for challenging the state. Supporters say the conditions in which the journalists are held are deplorable, with vermin infesting the cells.
Only eight of the 20 accused journalists are in custody. The others were not in court Thursday.