An Egyptian court said Monday it will issue its verdict on June 23 in the trial of Al-Jazeera journalists accused of aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood.
Australian Peter Greste and two other reporters working for Qatar-based Al-Jazeera English are among the 20 accused, in a trial that has triggered international outrage amid fears of growing media restrictions in Egypt.
“The court reserves June 23 to pronounce the verdict,” said judge Mohamed Nagui Shehata at Monday’s hearing.
Egyptian prosecutors have demanded the maximum penalty of 15-25 years in jail for all defendants, but defence lawyers and relatives expect the accused to be acquitted.
“I expect acquittal. The hearings itself prove my brother is innocent,” Mike Greste told AFP during Monday’s session.
The trial began on February 20.
Of those on trial, 16 are Egyptians charged with joining the Brotherhood, which was designated a “terrorist” organisation in December during the intensifying crackdown that followed the army’s overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July.
Four foreigners, including Greste, are charged with “spreading false news” and collaborating with and assisting the Egyptian defendants in their crimes by providing media material, as well as editing and publishing it.
Nine of the 20 defendants are in custody, with the rest being tried in absentia.
During the hearings Greste, a Peabody Award-winning journalist, and his co-defendants have denounced the trial as “unfair and political”, charging that the evidence against them had been “fabricated”.
Prosecutors have presented audio recordings, photographs, maps and other material they say shows the accused had links to the Brotherhood and falsely portrayed Egypt as being in a state of “civil war” since Morsi’s overthrow.
The trial is part of a relentless crackdown by the authorities.
More than 1,400 people have been killed, mostly Morsi’s Islamist supporters, while more than 15,000 have been jailed.
Hundreds of them have been sentenced to death after speedy mass trials.
Greste and Al-Jazeera English’s bureau chief in Cairo, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, an Egyptian-Canadian, have been repeatedly denied bail.
Some of their co-defendants have claimed to have been tortured in prison.
“For six months now we have been treated like terrorists with weapons,” Fahmy told the court on Monday.
He and Greste were arrested in a hotel room in Cairo on December 29 after the channel’s office was raided by police.
“A television channel cannot destroy a country,” said Fahmy.
The authorities have previously said that the accused were operating in Egypt without any valid media accreditation.
The trial comes against the backdrop of strained ties between Cairo and Doha.
Egypt’s interim government, which considers Al-Jazeera as the voice of Qatar, accuses Doha of backing Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, while Doha openly denounces the repression of the ousted president’s supporters.
Several Brotherhood leaders have fled to Doha since Morsi’s ouster, and some often appear on Al-Jazeera talk shows.