State: Egypt charges against Al Jazeera journalists 'egregious'

The State Department strongly condemned Egypt's military government on Wednesday after the country's top prosecutor said he would put 20 Al Jazeera journalists on trial.

“We remain deeply concerned about the ongoing lack of freedom of expression and press freedom in Egypt,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at the top of her daily press briefing. “The government's targeting of journalists and others on spurious claims is wrong and demonstrates an egregious disregard for the protection of basic rights and freedoms.”

“We remind Egypt's interim government of the need to permit an atmosphere that enables rights and freedoms to be exercised by all Egyptians without fear of intimidation, repercussion and detention,” she said. “This is essential for any sustainable transition.”

The journalists — 16 Egyptians and four foreigners — are accused of belonging to a terrorist group or spreading false news. Egypt's military government has accused the Qatar-based channel of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which was declared a terrorist group last month.

The charges come as Congress earlier this month passed a spending bill that restores $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt, which was suspended after elected President Mohammed Morsi was deposed last year.

“Let me be clear that the United States places great value on a free press. We are alarmed by reports today of additional journalists facing charges, including the Al Jazeera journalist,” Psaki said. “Any journalist, regardless of affiliation, must not be targets of violence , intimidation or politicized legal action. They must be protected and permitted to freely do their jobs in Egypt.

“We remind the Egyptian government, publicly and privately, that freedom of the press is the cornerstone of democracy and we urge the interim government to implement its commitment to this freedom. We strongly urge the government to reconsider detaining and trying these journalists and reiterate that they must be afforded all accordance of the process under the rule of law.”

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