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Al Jazeera journalists trial adjourned

Court proceedings postponed to 24 March to allow more witnesses to be heard in case against Al Jazeera journalists on bias, terrorist affiliation accusations

Ahram Online, Wednesday 5 Mar 2014
Peter Greste
Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste stands inside the defendants' cage in a courtroom during a trial on terror charges, along with several other defendants, in Cairo Egypt, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. (Photo: AP)

Cairo Criminal Court adjourned Wednesday the trial of 20 Al Jazeera journalists, including four foreigners, to 24 March to listen to more witnesses. The defendants will continue in detention.

During the session, one defendant told the court he was tortured in the national security headquarters while waiting to be questioned by the prosecution. The prosecution refused to document the torture.

Another defendant, Mohamed Fahmy, who suffered a broken arm prior to arrest, asked for his handcuffs to be taken off, adding that he does not receive medication for his arm whilst in detention. He pleaded to the court for his release.

The 16 Egyptians are charged with joining a terrorist organisation — a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, officially designated a terrorist group in December — and harming national unity and social peace.

The foreigners (an Australian, two Britons and one Dutch) are accused of "airing false news" in order to "undermine the state's status and disrupt public security."

Evidence, mainly collected during the arrest of the defendants in a Cairo hotel, was examined. It included photographs, mobile phones, laptops, tripods, cameras, USB flash drives, voice recorders, lighting for sets, among other materials.

The court also listened to testimony against the defendants by an officer who conducted investigations prior to their arrest.

Eight defendants, including Al Jazeera's Egyptian-Canadian Cairo bureau chief, Fahmy, and former BBC correspondent Peter Greste, an Australian, are being held in custody.

The others, including the two Britons, are being tried in absentia.

It is the first time journalists have been tried for terrorism related crimes in Egypt.

In the first session, representatives from the Australian and Canadian embassies were in court to support their citizens.

Al Jazeera Mubashir Misr, an affiliate of the Qatari-based network, has been accused by the authorities of being biased toward ousted president Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Human rights groups, fellow journalists and the United States have condemned the trial as an attack on freedom of expression and the media in Egypt.

The US State Department has accused Egypt of targeting journalists and others with spurious claims, demonstrating an "egregious disregard for the protection of basic rights."

Egyptian authorities have said it is a judicial matter and have rejected "unacceptable" interference from abroad.

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