Two Al—Jazeera journalists on trial in Egypt directly asked the judge on Monday to release them, insisting the terrorism charges against them were preposterous.
The request by Australian Peter Greste and Canadian—Egyptian Mohammed Fahmy came during a hearing in the trial that has drawn international uproar.
The two, along with a third Al—Jazeera staffer and 17 others, face terrorism—related charges based on the Egyptian authorities’ accusations that they provided a platform to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group of ousted President Mohamed Morsy, but their defenders say they were just doing their job.
The trial marks the first time journalists have been charged with terrorism—related offenses in Egypt.
Greste and Fahmy spoke after they were allowed out of their defendants’ cage, which serves as the dock in Egyptian trials, even though they remained handcuffed.
“The idea that I could (have) an association with the Muslim Brotherhood is frankly preposterous,” Greste told the judge, Mohammed Nagi Shehata.
“I ask for acquittal,” demanded Fahmy. He told the judge he was an alcohol—drinking liberal who lived abroad for a long time, and added- “Have you ever heard of a (Muslim) terrorist that drinks alcohol?”
The trial was then adjourned until April 10.
Egypt’s military—backed government last December declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization, a decision that appeared to be largely based on bombings that a Sinai militant group has claimed responsibility for.
The Brotherhood denies it practices or advocates violence but protests by its supporters since Morsi’s ouster last July have grown increasingly violent.
Within days after the Brotherhood was outlawed, the Al—Jazeera journalists were arrested in their hotel room in Cairo, from where they worked after their offices had been repeatedly raided by authorities.
Of the other 17 defendants, six are employed by Al—Jazeera, according to the network. The others have been identified as Brotherhood members and supporters, activists, and a journalist who visited Fahmy at the hotel.
Since Morsy’s ouster by the military, Egypt has seen a heavy crackdown on his supporters, with several thousand detained and hundreds killed in political violence.