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US urges Egypt to free Al Jazeera journalists

White House says it is deeply concerned about a recent crackdown on journalists and academics in Egypt, calls for release of detainees

Ahram Online , Wednesday 5 Feb 2014
Al Jazeera international detained journalists: From L-R - Peter Greste, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed

The US has expressed alarm over the detention of three Al Jazeera television journalists in Egypt and called for their release.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Tuesday that the detention of the journalists was "of deep concern" to Washington.

Australian Peter Greste, Al Jazeera Cairo bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed were arrested on 29 December over an allegedly illegal broadcast from a hotel. The three were accused by prosecutors of harming national security, airing false news and working without permits.

"The restrictions on freedom of expression in Egypt are a concern, and that includes the targeting of Egyptian and foreign journalists and academics simply for expressing their views," Carney told reporters at a briefing.

"These figures, regardless of affiliation, should be protected and permitted to do their jobs freely in Egypt."

The trio, along with seventeen other defendants, was referred to a criminal court last week on charges related to joining and aiding a terrorist group – identified by the authorities as the Muslim Brotherhood movement – and endangering national security.

However, Al Jazeera said its detained journalists had not been officially notified of the charges.

Charges brought against a number of journalists in Egypt have heightened fears that freedom of press is being seriously curtailed by the interim authorities.

Carney said that the US administration had strongly urged the Egyptian government to drop the charges against the journalists and release them.

Two other staff members of the Qatar-based TV network - Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent Abdullah Al-Shami and cameraman for Al Jazeera's Egyptian affiliate Mohammad Badr - were detained in July and August on charges of committing acts of violence.

Badr was acquitted on Monday and released early on Wednesday, judicial sources said.

Abdullah Al-Shami remains in detention.

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