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Published: Thursday February 20, 2014 MYT 9:36:13 PM
Updated: Thursday February 20, 2014 MYT 9:36:13 PM

Egypt puts three Al Jazeera journalists on trial

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt put three Al Jazeera journalists on trial on Thursday on charges of aiding Egyptians belonging to a "terrorist organisation", in a case criticised by human rights groups who say the authorities are stamping out freedom of expression.

The journalists, wearing white prison outfits, appeared in metal cages, a Reuters witness said. Six others identified as Al Jazeera journalists are being tried in absentia.

Three of the Qatar-based television network's journalists - Peter Greste, an Australian; Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian national; and Baher Mohamed - were detained in Cairo on December 29 and remain in custody, Al Jazeera said.

All three deny the charges and Al Jazeera has said the accusations are absurd. Egyptian officials have said the case is not linked to freedom of expression and that the journalists raised suspicions by operating without official permission.

The court postponed the case until March 5.

In a statement last month, the prosecutor said Jazeera journalists had published lies that harmed the national interest and had supplied money, equipment and information to 16 Egyptians. The foreigners were also accused of using unlicensed broadcasting equipment.

The 16 Egyptians are to face trial for belonging to a "terrorist organisation", an apparent reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been protesting against the government since the army toppled Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July.

The government has declared the Brotherhood a "terrorist group". The Brotherhood says it is a peaceful organisation.

(Reporting by Omar Fahmy; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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