Al-Jazeera reporter speaks at Egyptian trial

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Associated Press

Posted on March 5, 2014 at 1:33 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 5 at 3:06 PM

CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian-Canadian journalist working for Al-Jazeera English told an Egyptian court Wednesday that he could "never possibly betray his country," testifying in a case accusing him and other colleagues of being terrorists.

Mohamed Fahmy, Al-Jazeera English's acting Egypt bureau chief, addressed the court, saying he works as a journalist and is from a conservative and patriotic family in Port Said. He appeared with his arm in a sling and asked for the court to release him for treatment for the injury, which he said he suffered before being arrested.

Egypt's state MENA news agency reported that the judge adjourned the trial until March 24 after hearing Fahmy speak.

Fahmy is on trial with two other Al-Jazeera English journalists and 17 other defendants on charges accusing them of joining a terrorist group, aiding a terrorist group, and endangering national security. Authorities accuse Al-Jazeera of being a platform for ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi's supporters and his Muslim Brotherhood group. The network denies that, saying its journalists were only doing their jobs.

Those arrested include Fahmy, Australian award-winning correspondent Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed. All have pleaded not guilty. Others are being tried in absentia.

During Wednesday's hearing, defense lawyer Khaled Abu Bakr asked that the court review reports filed by the journalists, while also asking for an independent panel of media professors to review the footage and decide whether it could be a threat to Egypt's national security. The judge denied the request, MENA reported, saying it was up to the court to decide whether the videos were a threat to national security.

The first witness for the prosecution was a national security officer who said Fahmy is a member of the Brotherhood. The defense team was not allowed to cross-examine witnesses Wednesday.

The trial marks the first time Egypt has prosecuted journalists on terrorism-related charges. It comes amid an extensive crackdown on some secular dissidents and Brotherhood supporters.

One of them is Anas el-Beltagy, a son of former lawmaker and Brotherhood leader Mohammed el-Beltagy, who was himself arrested as part of the crackdown against the group. Anas el-Beltagy, being tried with the Al-Jazeera journalists, did not appear in court on Wednesday, MENA reported.

Anas el-Beltagy's mother, Sanaa Abdel-Gawad, had said her son was arrested weeks before the journalists. She said he originally was charged with violating a law against protests but then new charges were added to his case linking him to the journalists.

She told The Associated Press she was not allowed into the courtroom Wednesday and was forced to wait outside.

In a statement Wednesday, Qatar-based Al-Jazeera said it is disappointed with the court's adjournment, and that it is continually working for the team's release.

"The trial in Egypt is a trial of journalism itself, so we remain resolute in calling for freedom of speech, for the right for people to know, and for the immediate release of all of Al-Jazeera's journalists in detention in Egypt," said Al Anstey, managing director of Al-Jazeera English.

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