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Al-Jazeera reporters on trial, deny links with Muslim Brotherhood

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Al-Jazeera reporter Peter Greste told judges today, Monday he has no links to the banned Muslim Brotherhood, saying that he and fellow jailed journalists from the network pose no threat to Egypt.

Greste, an Australian, and his co-defendants are on trial on charges of spreading false news and supporting the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood movement of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

“The idea that I have a connection with the Muslim Brotherhood is frankly preposterous,” Greste, dressed in white prison uniform, told the judges from outside a caged dock.

“I would like to emphasise that we pose no risk to either the state of Egypt or any individual.”

The trial was later adjourned to April 10.

Prosecutors insist that Greste and fellow jailed Al-Jazeera journalists colluded with the Brotherhood, now designated a “terrorist” group, and falsely sought to portray Egypt in a state of “civil war”.

The Al-Jazeera trial, in which 20 defendants stand accused, has sparked an international outcry and fuelled fears of a media crackdown by the military-installed authorities.

Greste and seven co-defendants initially appeared inside a caged dock, an AFP correspondent reported from the courtroom.

Eight defendants are in custody, and the rest are either on the run or abroad.

Greste and fellow journalist Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy were arrested on December 29 in a Cairo hotel suite they used as a bureau after their offices were raided by police.

Fahmy is the Egypt bureau chief of Al-Jazeera English.

“We are not charged with any crimes of violence. We were not found with weapons,” Greste said, standing in front of the judges, and added that he had arrived in Cairo just two weeks before his arrest.

- ’100 days in prison’ -

Monday’s hearing comes a day after Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim accused an Al-Jazeera editor of helping to leak classified intelligence documents, in a separate espionage trial involving Morsi.

Before Monday’s hearing began, Fahmy told AFP that “after three hearings, it’s apparent that there’s no case against us”.

“No witness has anything that incriminates us.”

Before the proceedings got under way, Greste’s brother Mike said his brother was “strong… but 100 days in prison must have left its effect on him”.

Defence lawyer Mokhles El-Salhy said his clients had been doing their “job professionally and objectively” when they were arrested.

“They were covering violent clashes between protesters and security forces, as were all other channels. They didn’t make it up or fabricate it,” he told AFP before Monday’s hearing.

The trial comes against the backdrop of strained ties between Cairo and Doha since the army ousted Morsi last July.

Gas-rich Qatar was a close ally of Morsi’s government and the Brotherhood. and Egypt accuses Qatar of backing the Brotherhood, including through Al-Jazeera.

The authorities banned the Egyptian channel of the broadcaster’s network following Morsi’s removal.

Morsi himself has also been put on trial in several cases.

On Sunday, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim accused an Al-Jazeera editor of helping to leak classified intelligence documents, in a separate espionage trial involving Morsi.

The minister charged that Amin El-Serafi, secretary to Morsi, leaked the documents to Ibrahim Mohamed Hilal, who he said was Al-Jazeera’s news editor and also a Brotherhood member.

Hilal allegedly facilitated a meeting between a Palestinian go-between, a Qatari official and an operative with an unspecified intelligence agency.(AFP)