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Egypt's trial for Al Jazeera journalists adjourned till March 24

By Reza Sayah and Sarah Sirgany, CNN
updated 3:04 PM EST, Thu March 6, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "What we saw in court today was ridiculous," brother of one accused journalist says
  • Trial of Al Jazeera English journalists accused of terrorist activity adjourned till late March
  • Lead investigator declines to answer questions, says he can't divulge secret source
  • Trial has drawn international condemnation from human rights groups

Cairo (CNN) -- Prosecutors presented evidence at a hearing this week for three Al Jazeera English journalists accused of terrorist activity in Egypt, but they did little to explain why everyday broadcast equipment and the defendants' personal belongings would implicate them in any crime.

The three journalists at this second hearing are among 20 defendants authorities have charged with crimes; the Qatar-based Al Jazeera says only eight have worked for the network.

The trial has drawn international condemnation from human rights groups, who say the arrests indicate authorities in Egypt are stifling dissent and freedom of the press.

The case comes amid a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood after the ouster of Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsy. The accused have denied the allegations against them, with the journalists saying they were simply doing their jobs.

Detained Al Jazeera journalists appear in court as trial opens

In what was at times a bizarre and confused proceeding Wednesday, a lead investigator took the stand as the state's first witness but refused to answer several questions, saying he could not divulge a secret government source.

At one point the witness told the court he could not remember certain details of his investigation.

"What we saw in court today was ridiculous," said Adel Fahmy, brother of jailed Al Jazeera English producer Mohamed Fahmy. "It showed that the government has no case and these journalists are innocent."

Fahmy, producer Baher Mohamed and award-winning correspondent Peter Greste, an Australian, were arrested December 29 at a Cairo hotel room and later charged with joining a terrorist organization, broadcasting false information and working in Egypt without permits.

The three have been denied bail and kept in detention for more than two months.

Among the evidence the state claims to have is video of news reports, allegedly fabricated by the Al Jazeera journalists. Fahmy's defense attorney demanded for the reports to be viewed in court and complained the court did not have the equipment necessary to show the video.

He also questioned the credibility of statements written by state witnesses because the wording of each was identical.

Wednesday's proceeding drew sharp criticism and mocking statements on social media from journalists covering the trial.

"Watching judge unseal a steady stream of evidence, often having to use his pen or a lighter, was farcical. This trial is a huge embarrassment," tweeted Cairo-based freelance journalist Louisa Loveluck.

Throughout the hearing, the defendants were kept in a caged dock steps away from their family members.

On several occasions, the judge gave them permission to address the court.

"I would never betray my country," Fahmy told the court.

From inside the cage, Greste told reporters he was angry "that we spent two months in prison for such flimsy evidence."

The trial was adjourned until March 24.

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