Egypt Dismisses US Criticism of Journalist Trial

Egypt’s foreign ministry on Thursday dismissed US criticism of the charges placed against Al-Jazeera journalists for belonging to a terrorist group, arguing that Egypt’s judiciary is fair and independent.

On Wednesday the United States called the decision of Egypt’s top prosecutor to try the journalists “an “egregious disregard” for basic rights and freedoms.

But Egypt’s foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty hit back on Thursday, saying that it is “unacceptable” that any external party or country interfere in the work of Egypt’s judicial system.

“Egypt’s prosecution is part of the Egyptian judiciary which enjoys complete independence, and the government does not interfere in its work,” state-run news agency MENA quoted the spokesman as saying.

The 20 journalists, 16 Egyptians and four foreigners, were all referred by prosecutors to a criminal court on Wednesday.

The Egyptians were charged with joining a terrorist organisation, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was deemed a terrorist group last December by Egypt’s interim authorities, as well as harming national unity and social peace.

The foreigners – an Australian, two Britons and a Dutch – are accused  of “airing false news” in order to “undermine the state’s status and disrupt public security.”

Only eight of the accused are in custody and Egyptian authorities are searching for the other twelve, according to a statement by the public prosecutor’s office.

The decision prompted US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki to say that the US was “deeply concerned” about the ongoing lack of freedom of expression and press freedom in Egypt.

Abdelatty said however that Egypt’s judicial system ensures fair, transparent trials and allows retrials under no exceptional measures.

Human rights groups and international news organisations have condemned the recent arrests of journalists in Egypt.

Al-Jazeera said five of its detained journalists have not been officially informed of their charges.

“The world knows these allegations against our journalists are absurd, baseless and false,” a spokesman of the Qatar-based broadcaster said.

“This is a challenge to free speech, to the right of journalists to report on all aspects of events, and to the right of people to know what is going on.”