Journalists from the international news outlet Al Jazeera appeared in an Egyptian court with several others on terrorism charges Wednesday in a case that has caused international uproar over the decline in press freedoms around the world.
Three of the defendants—Al Jazeera correspondent Peter Greste, Egypt bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy and producer Baher Mohamed—were arrested in their hotel in Cairo on Dec. 29 by Egyptian authorities and accused of spreading false news and belonging to a “terrorist group.”
The journalists could face up to 15 years in prison for what many say was the simple act of reporting.
The three pleaded not-guilty in the first day of the hearings last week.
The second day of court proceedings took at “tragicomic turn” Wednesday, the Guardianreports, “as prosecutors presented box after box of everyday items and broadcast equipment as evidence of the defendants’ alleged terrorism – many of them as innocuous as electric cables, a computer keyboard, and a bumbag belonging to Peter Greste.”
At one point the defendants banged their handcuffs on the cage inside the courtroom they were held in. “Journalists are not terrorists,” defendant Baher Mohamed shouted.
“I’ve been a journalist for 12 years,” said Fahmy. “I covered the Syrian and Egyptian revolutions. No one ever said that I was dishonorable. It’s impossible that I would ever betray my country.”
In total, 20 journalists are currently on trial. Twelve of them are being tried in absentia. Nine are Al Jazeera employees.
Last week, journalists around the world took part in a global day of action in solidarity with the detained group, calling for their release and denouncing what has been described as a “trial of journalism itself.”
The court proceedings were adjourned until March 24 to allow more witnesses to be heard in the case.
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“Mohamed, Peter, and Baher are world-class journalists, and were simply doing the job – of journalism – covering and challenging all sides of the story in Egypt,” Al Anstey, managing director of Al Jazeera English, said. “To continue to keep them behind bars after such a long time in detention is simply outrageous, so we continue to call for their immediate release.”