CAIRO, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Three journalists with al-Jazeera pleaded not guilty Thursday in an Egyptian court to having links to terrorism and spreading false news, officials say.
Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste are among 20 journalists being tried in the first case of terrorism-related charges being brought against members of the press, Ahram Online reported.
After accepting their plea, the trial was adjourned until March. 5.
Only nine of the journalists charged work for the Qatari-based network, al-Jazeera reported.
Greste, an Australian correspondent with al-Jazeera, is among four foreign journalists with the network who face charges of "airing false news" to "undermine the state's status and disrupt public security." The other three are being tried in absentia, al-Jazeera said.
Sixteen Egyptian journalists are charged with joining a terrorist organization as well as harming national unity and social peace. They are accused of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government has designated a terrorist organization.
The charges are "absurd, baseless and false," said an al-Jazeera spokesman. "This is a challenge to free speech, to the right of journalists to report on all aspects of events, and to the right of people to know what is going on."
Human rights groups, journalists andthe United States contended charges against the group are attacks on freedom of expression in Egypt. The U.S. State Department has accused Egypt of "egregious disregard for the protection of human rights.