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Journalists held as Muslim agents

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By McClatchy Newspapers
Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, 9:18 p.m.
 

CAIRO — Egyptian authorities on Wednesday charged 20 journalists who work for the Al-Jazeera satellite news channel, including five who hold foreign citizenship, with being agents of the Muslim Brotherhood and accused them of plotting to defame Egypt and of running a terrorist cell out of a luxurious Cairo hotel.

If convicted, they could get life in prison.

Among those charged were Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian who was the news channel's acting Egypt bureau chief, and Peter Greste, an Australian who was the channel's English-language correspondent. Both are well known internationally and have worked for Britain's BBC. Fahmy, who's worked for CNN, McClatchy and The New York Times, is the author of a respected book on Egyptian politics. Two Britons and a Dutch citizen also were charged.

The charges shocked local and international journalists, human rights groups, the families of those detained and even some Egyptians, and they dashed any hopes that the military-backed government would embrace the freedom of speech referenced in a newly ratified constitution.

The state prosecutor's formal filing of accusations — by far the most serious charges leveled against journalists — signaled that those who cover opponents of the government might be imprisoned as terrorists alongside the nation's worst criminals.

Since the military ousted former President Mohamed Morsy last July, the government has undertaken a massive crackdown on his supporters and other political dissidents that's resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands of arrests. One Egyptian human rights group has estimated that more than 21,000 people have been detained. Two journalism advocacy groups said there had been at least 30 incidents of journalists being harassed or arrested for doing their work so far this month.

“Security forces are still repressing journalists in an unprecedented manner,” the Egyptian Journalist Syndicate said in a statement issued before the charges were announced.

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