(MENAFN -Arab News) CAIRO: A rights group on Thursday denounced Egypt?s stand on freedom of expression as 20 employees of the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network went on trial accused of membership in a terrorist organization and also for aiding it.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch described as ?politicized? the charges against the Al-Jazeera employees, who include acting chief of bureau Mohamed Fahmy, an Egyptian-Canadian, correspondent Peter Greste, an Aussie and Egyptian Baher Mohamed.
?Egyptian authorities in recent months have demonstrated almost zero tolerance for any form of dissent, arresting and prosecuting journalists, demonstrators, and academics for peacefully expressing their views,? said a statement by Human Rights Watch.
?Journalists should not have to risk years in an Egyptian prison for doing their job,? said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. He added their prosecution ?shows how fast the space for dissent in Egypt is evaporating.?
The charges against the Al-Jazeera employees are based on the government?s designation in December of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which ousted leader Muhammad Mursi hails, as a terrorist organization.
Thursday?s hearing, held at a police school south of the capital, is being held amid tight security. After waiting for several hours, reporters were allowed into the courtroom, but were not allowed to bring in video or other cameras. Prosecutors allege that the 20 Al-Jazeera employees set up a media center for the Brotherhood in two suites in a luxury Nile-side hotel. A video of their arrest leaked to a private TV channel clearly shows Fahmy and Greste in a hotel suite with TV equipment scattered on desks and on the floor.
A statement by the prosecution says the defendants ?manipulated pictures? to create ?unreal scenes to give the impression to the outside world that there is a civil war that threatens to bring down the state? and broadcast scenes to aid ?the terrorist group...?