(Repeats to widen distribution; no change to text)
(Adds U.S. State Department comment)
By Shadia Nasralla
CAIRO Jan 29 Egypt will put an Australian, two
Britons and a Dutchwoman on trial for aiding 16 Egyptians
belonging to a "terrorist organisation", the public prosecutor
said on Wednesday, describing the four as Al Jazeera
Three of the Qatar-based television network's journalists -
Peter Greste, an Australian; Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian
national; and Baher Mohamed - were detained in Cairo on Dec. 29
and remain in custody, Al Jazeera said.
The identities of the other foreigners mentioned by the
prosecutor were not immediately clear. The Dutch Embassy
declined to comment. The British Embassy said it was aware of
the report and was seeking more information.
In a statement, the prosecutor said the four had published
"lies" that harmed the national interest and had supplied money,
equipment and information to the 16 Egyptians. The foreigners
were also accused of using unlicensed broadcasting equipment.
The 16 Egyptians are to face trial for belonging to a
"terrorist organisation", an apparent reference to the Muslim
Brotherhood, which has been protesting against the government
since the army toppled Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July.
The government has declared the Brotherhood a "terrorist
group". The Brotherhood says it is a peaceful organisation.
Two journalists from Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera
Mubasher Misr, Abdullah Al Shami and Mohamed Bader, have been in
detention for five months, according to Al Jazeera's website.
Responding to the prosecutor's statement, Al Jazeera said
its five detained journalists had not been officially informed
of developments in their case.
"The world knows these allegations against our journalists
are absurd, baseless and false," the broadcaster said in an
emailed statement. "This is a challenge to free speech, to the
right of journalists to report on all aspects of events, and to
the right of people to know what is going on."
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United
States was "deeply concerned about the ongoing lack of freedom
of expression and press freedom in Egypt" and urged the
government to reconsider trying the journalists.
"We are alarmed by reports today of additional journalists
facing charges, including the Al Jazeera journalist," she said.
"Any journalist, regardless of affiliation, must not be targets
of violence, intimidation or politicized legal action. They must
be protected and permitted to freely do their jobs in Egypt."
Egypt's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that of the
four non-Egyptian defendants, only Greste was in custody, and
the rest were "on the run from the law". It did not name them.
Both state and private Egyptian media have been whipping up
anti-Brotherhood sentiment, suggesting anyone associated with
the group is a traitor and a threat to national security.
The crackdown on dissent has raised questions about Egypt's
democratic credentials three years after an uprising toppled
autocrat Hosni Mubarak and raised hopes of greater freedoms.
Adel Fahmy, the brother of Al Jazeera producer Mohamed
Fahmy, voiced dismay at the prosecutor's charges. "They just
want to magnify this case, for no reason, maybe for political
interests, nothing makes sense any more," he told Reuters.
"Mohamed is the furthest in the world from being related to
a terrorist group or the Muslim Brotherhood."
Al Jazeera's Cairo offices have been closed since July 3
when security forces raided them hours after the army ousted
Mursi following mass protests against his rule.
Egyptian media have referred to the Al Jazeera journalists
as "The Marriott Cell" because they worked from that hotel.
Qatar was a strong financial backer of Egypt during Mursi's
year in power and the Gulf Arab state has vehemently criticised
his overthrow and the ensuing crackdown on the Brotherhood.
The charges against the journalists are likely to further
strain ties between Doha and Cairo.
Human rights groups have condemned the arrests of
journalists in Egypt.
"Today's decision by Egypt's chief prosecutor to refer a
number of journalists to trial on alleged terrorism-related
charges is a major setback for media freedom in Egypt," said
Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
"The move sends the chilling message that only one narrative
is acceptable in Egypt today, that which is sanctioned by the
(Additional reporting by Amena Bakr and Bill Trott; Editing by
Michael Georgy, Alistair Lyon and Mohammad Zargham)