Egypt's chief prosecutor yesterday referred 20 journalists from the Al-Jazeera TV network, including four foreigners, to trial on charges of allegedly joining or assisting a terrorist group and spreading false news that endangers national security.
It was the first time authorities have put journalists on trial on terror-related charges. It demonstrates the expanding reach of the authorities' heavy crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood since the military's ousting of President Mohammed Mursi on July 3.
The charges are based on the government's declaration last month of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation.
Authorities have depicted the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network as biased towards Islamist Mursi and the Brotherhood.
Soon after the declaration, police arrested three reporters from Al-Jazeera English, accusing them of operating a media centre for the group and spreading false news.
Al-Jazeera denies bias and has demanded the release of its reporters, whose arrest sparked an outcry from rights groups and journalist protection groups.
Yesterday, the prosecutor's office said 16 Egyptians in the case were accused of joining a terrorist group, while the foreigners - an Australian, a Dutch citizen and two Britons - were accused of helping to promote false news benefiting a terrorist group.
The prosecutor's statement said the accused had established a media network composed of 20 people - Egyptians and foreigners - who used two suites in a Cairo hotel as a media centre, supported with cameras, broadcasting equipment and computers.
The statement said 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".