A US diplomat demanded on Thursday for Egypt to respect freedoms and basic human rights as an Egyptian court started hearing a trial against 20 Al-Jazeera journalists.
US relations with Egypt have cooled over the past several months, following the military coup that ousted elected President Mohammed Morsi on 3 July and the Egyptian authorities subsequent crack down on protestors and journalists.
A US State Department official told AFP that: “The government’s targeting of journalists and others on questionable claims is wrong and demonstrates an egregious disregard for the protection of basic rights and freedoms. All journalists, regardless of their affiliation must not be targets of violence, intimidation or politicised legal action. They must be protected and permitted to freely do their jobs in Egypt”
The Egyptian authorities have detained three Al-Jazeera English journalists and are trying the others in absentia. Egypt accuses the journalists of spreading false news and supporting the now banned Muslim Brotherhood movement. The journalists have all pled not guilty to the charges. Al-Jazeera English correspondent Peter Greste said that he was “exhausted”, but confident that he will be released soon.
After the hearing the court adjourned the trial until Thursday 5 March.
The relations between Egypt and Qatar have deteriorated as a result of the coup. Cairo accuses Doha of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which the interim government declared a terrorist organisation, while Qatar slams Egypt’s repression of Morsi supporters.
In September, the Egyptian authorities also closed the Cairo office of Al-Jazeera Live.
The US has heightened criticism of its historic ally Egypt over the transitional process’s slow pace and the increasing limits on public freedoms. Furthermore, Washington decided to withhold some military assistance to Cairo in October of last year.