Cairo - Egypt will put an Australian, two Britons and a Dutchwoman on trial for aiding 16 Egyptians belonging to a “terrorist organisation”, the public prosecutor said on Wednesday, describing the four as Al Jazeera correspondents.
Three of the Qatar-based television network's journalists - Peter Greste, an Australian, Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian national, and Baher Mohamed - were detained in Cairo on Dec. 29 and remain in custody.
The identities of the two Britons and the Dutchwoman mentioned by the prosecutor were not immediately clear. The Dutch embassy declined to comment. The British embassy said it was aware of the report and was seeking more information.
In a statement, the prosecutor said the four had published “lies” that harmed the national interest and had supplied money, equipment and information to the 16 Egyptians. The foreigners were also accused of using unlicensed broadcasting equipment.
The 16 Egyptians are to face trial for belonging to a “terrorist organisation”, an apparent reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been protesting against the government since the army toppled Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July.
The government has declared the Brotherhood a “terrorist group”. The Brotherhood says it is a peaceful organisation.
Al Jazeera has previously denied accusations that its journalists spread lies or have any links with terrorists.
Both state and private Egyptian media have been whipping up anti-Brotherhood sentiment, suggesting anyone associated with the group is a traitor and a threat to national security.
The crackdown on dissent has raised questions over Egypt's democratic credentials three years after an uprising toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak and raised hopes of greater freedoms.
Adel Fahmy, the brother of Al Jazeera producer Mohamed Fahmy, voiced dismay at the prosecutor's charges.
“They just want to magnify this case, for no reason, maybe for political interests, nothing makes sense any more,” he said.
“Mohamed is the furthest in the world from being related to a terrorist group or the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Al Jazeera's Cairo offices have been closed since July 3 when security forces raided them hours after the army ousted Mursi following mass protests against his rule.
Egyptian media have referred to the Al Jazeera journalists as “The Marriott Cell” because they worked from that hotel.
Two journalists from Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr, Abdullah Al Shami and Mohamed Bader, have been in detention for five months, according to Al Jazeera's website.
Qatar was a strong financial backer of Egypt during Mursi's year in power and the Gulf Arab state has vehemently criticised his overthrow and the ensuing crackdown on the Brotherhood.
The charges against the journalists are likely to further strain ties between Doha and Cairo.
Human rights groups have condemned the arrests of journalists in Egypt.
“There is a concerted effort under way to squeeze out any independent observers, from activists to journalists to non-governmental organisations,” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa programme, said last week.
In December a prosecutor ordered the arrest of an Egyptian man whose 15-year-old son was detained for owning a ruler bearing a symbol associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.