CAIRO: A Egyptian court is to try Al-Jazeera journalists on Thursday for allegedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, in a case that sparked accusations of censorship against the military-installed government.
The trial of journalists for the Qatar-based channel comes against the backdrop of strained relations between Cairo and Doha, which backed deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, ousted by the army in July, and his now-banned Muslim Brotherhood.
Prosecutors allege that the de–fendants, including award-winning Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, manipulated footage and supported the Brotherhood.
In all, 20 “Al-Jazeera journalists” are on trial, but only eight of them are in custody.
Prosecutors say they falsely portrayed Egypt as being in a state of “civil war,” possibly a reference to the broadcaster’s coverage of a crackdown in which more than 1,000 Morsi supporters have been killed in street clashes.
Human Rights Watch said the trial was part of a crackdown on dissent by the interim government.
“Egyptian authorities in recent months have demonstrated almost zero tolerance for any form of dissent, arresting and prosecuting journalists, demonstrators, and academics for peacefully expressing their views,” it said in a statement on Thursday.
The government has designated the Brotherhood as a terrorist organ–ization, although the group denies involvement in a spate of bombings since Morsi’s overthrow.
Al-Jazeera, which says only nine of the defendants are on its staff, has denied the charges.
Greste, a former British Broadcasting Corporation correspondent, and Fahmy, who worked with Cable News Network before joining Al-Jazeera, were arrested in a Cairo hotel in December.
The other foreign journalists listed in the indictment are abroad and will be tried in absentia.
They are Britons Sue Turton and Dominic Kane and Dutch journalist Rena Netjes, who was indicted even though she does not work for the channel.