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Egypt: Detained Al Jazeera journalists and others face criminal trial

By Reza Sayah. Salma Abdelaziz and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
January 29, 2014 -- Updated 1500 GMT (2300 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Prosecutors say three detained Al Jazeera journalists are among 20 people to face trial
  • Peter Greste, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed have been in jail for a month
  • They are accused of holding illegal meetings with the banned Muslim Brotherhood
  • 16 of the defendants are Egyptian; charges they face include belonging to terror group

(CNN) -- Three Al Jazeera journalists detained for a month are among 20 people referred to Egypt's criminal court to face trial, Egyptian state media reported Wednesday.

Four of the 20 defendants are foreigners: Australian Al Jazeera correspondent Peter Greste, two unidentified Englishmen and one unnamed Dutchman, state media said.

The foreign nationals face charges "of collaborating with the Egyptians (defendants) and providing them with information, equipment and money, as well as broadcasting false information and rumors to convince the international community that Egypt was undergoing a civil war."

The remaining 16 defendants are Egyptians, who face charges "including belonging to a terrorist organization, harming national unity and social peace, and using terrorism as a means to their goals."

Egyptian authorities arrested Greste, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed of Al Jazeera English on December 29. They have been held since.

Egyptian authorities say the journalists held illegal meetings with the Muslim Brotherhood, which was declared a terrorist group in December.

Mohamed Fadel Fahmy's brother, Adel Fahmy, told CNN that his brother's lawyer had confirmed he was among the defendants named in a statement by Egyptian prosecutors.

"It's a big blow. We didn't think things would turn out this way, especially after all the evidence that came out against the accusations," Adel Fahmy said. "We thought things were getting better, but this is taking us back to square one -- even worse."

Brother: 'We're praying and we're hoping'

Adel Fahmy said the family was trying to stay strong. "You have to always keep the hope. We're praying and we're hoping that this is just a tough period that will pass."

He said the family was particularly worried about Mohamed Fadel Fahmy because even Greste, as a foreign citizen in detention, was not getting any protection.

He added, "We have to stay positive. It's completely crazy and the situation in the country is making things worse -- the bombings, the assassinations. The government is trying to save face, but they're making things worse. They're not thinking rationally."

Greste wrote in a letter released by Al Jazeera on Saturday that his detention was an attack on media freedoms.

"How do you accurately and fairly report on Egypt's ongoing political struggle without talking to everyone involved?" he wrote.

The network did not say how it obtained the letter from Greste, who has previously worked for CNN, Reuters and the BBC.

Fahmy worked for CNN and The New York Times before joining Al Jazeera. Mohamed is a Cairo-based producer for the Qatar-based network.

Western leaders, human rights groups and journalists have repeatedly called on Egypt to release the men, saying their arrests were a violation of human rights and media freedoms.

CNN's Schams Elwazer and Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.

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