A trial date of 20 February has been set for the 20 journalists, nine of whom work for Al Jazeera, on charges related to spreading false news and terrorism.
Dubbed the “Marriott Terror Cell” by the prosecution and the Egyptian media, the main charges centre around three Al Jazeera journalists arrested on 29 December: Canadian-Egyptian bureau chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Australian correspondent Peter Greste, and producer Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian national. Fahmy and Greste were arrested at the Zamalek Marriott where they were using two rented suites as a base of operations, while Baher was arrested the same night at his home in suburban Cairo.
The trio have been imprisoned for 45 days awaiting trial.
Among the 20 defendants, 16 are Egyptian citizens and four are foreigners. Greste, along with Britons Sue Turton and Dominic Kane, have worked as correspondents for Al Jazeera English in Cairo. While a fourth defendant, Dutch journalist Rena Netjes, has never worked for the broadcaster.
After learning of the charges, Netjes was able to flee to the Netherlands after negotiations between the Dutch embassy and Egyptian authorities.
Greste is the only foreign defendant currently in the country.
Seen by many as a politically motivated trial attempting to quiet dissent and limit press freedoms, the international community has come out en masse to demand the immediate release of the imprisoned journalists. The White House, United States State Department, European Union, United Nations, Committee to Protect Journalists and Amnesty International have all issued statements condemning the ongoing detention of journalists in Egypt.
“These figures, regardless of affiliation, should be protected and permitted to do their jobs freely in Egypt,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney.
A Twitter campaign demanding the release of the journalists detained in Egypt went viral last week after a group of reporters protested outside the Egyptian embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, where Greste is based. People took to Twitter with pictures of themselves with their mouths taped shut and holding signs with the hashtag “#freeAJstaff.”
The other Al Jazeera journalists listed in the criminal complaint are Egyptian nationals currently working at network headquarters in Doha.
Al Jazeera Arabic reporter Abdullah Elshamy, not listed in the criminal complaint, has been detained without charges since being arrested while covering the dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adaweya Square on 14 August. He is currently on the 22nd day of a hunger strike in protest of his imprisonment.
Another Al Jazeera journalist, Cameraman Mohamed Badr, was acquitted last week in North Cairo Criminal Court along with 61 other defendants charged with inciting murder, “thuggery”, possessing unlicensed weapons, vandalising public facilities, blocking roads and using force against the security forces stemming from a clash with police in Ramses Square on 15 July of last year.