Three Al Jazeera journalists pleaded not guilty Thursday and shouted from the dock that their prison conditions are "psychologically unbearable'' as they went on trial with several other defendants, on terror charges.
The high-profile case _ with journalists charged under anti-terror laws for the first time in Egypt _ underlined the tug of war between the military-backed government and the Qatari-based network criticized for its coverage of the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and the crackdown against his Muslim Brotherhood.
Authorities accuse Al Jazeera of acting as a platform for Morsi's supporters. The network denies that and says its journalists were only doing their jobs.
The Dec. 29 arrest of Al Jazeera English's acting bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy, an Egyptian-Canadian; Australian award-winning correspondent Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed sparked an outcry from international media, rights groups and journalist advocacy organizations.
Security officials raided their suite and accused them of having unlicensed equipment and setting up a media center for the Brotherhood at a five-star hotel overlooking the Nile River in the upscale district of Zamalek. They also were accused of fabricating footage to show the country in a state of civil strife, harming its reputation.
Authorities later charged them and 17 other people with belonging to and aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and threatening national security.
Only eight of those charged were in the courtroom on Thursday _ the three journalists and five students arrested earlier in December while protesting Morsi's ouster _ while the others were being tried in-absentia, including two Britons and a Dutch woman.
Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed wore white jumpsuits and stood in the defendants' cage as they shouted out that they were disconnected from outside world, lacked access to books or newspapers and were allowed only one hour of out of their cell each day.
They said they were allowed a weekly visit by their lawyers and prison officials monitored family visits. Relatives including Fahmy's brother, Adel, said that conditions are much better after they were recently moved from a high-security prison where they were kept in solitary confinement and slept on the floor with no blankets. He said they now are together in a cell and sleep on beds. They also get food and clothes during visits.
"It's physically fine, but psychologically unbearable,'' Mohammed Fahmy whose arm hung in a sling because of an injury in his shoulder sustained before his arrest, shouted. He said that his