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Verdict In Trial Of Al Jazeera Journalists Set For Next Week

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Defendents who are in custody stand in the accused cells during the trial of 20 individuals, including five Al-Jazeera journalists, for allegedly defaming the country and ties to the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood on May 3, 2014 in the police institute near Cairo's Turah prison. Peter Greste (L), an Australian journalist with satellite news channel Al-Jazeera on trial described his ordeal as a 'massive injustice', after spending more than four months in jail. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED | MOHAMED EL-SHAHED via Getty Images

CAIRO, June 16 (Reuters) - An Egyptian court said on Monday it would rule on June 23 in the case involving three Al Jazeera journalists on trial for more than five months on charges of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood, which the state has labeled a "terrorist organization".

The trio - Peter Greste, an Australian, Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian national, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian - deny the charges and Al Jazeera has said the accusations are absurd.

Human rights groups say the case shows authorities are trampling on freedom of expression. But Egyptian officials have said the trial is not linked to freedom of expression and that the journalists raised suspicions by operating without proper accreditation.

The crackdown on dissent has raised questions about Egypt's democratic credentials three years after an uprising toppled veteran autocratic president Hosni Mubarak and raised hopes of greater freedoms.

Mohamed Mursi, a Brotherhood leader, was elected president in 2012, but the army toppled him a year later following mass protests against his rule. The general who led his ousting, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, was elected president last month.

Both state and private Egyptian media have fanned anti-Brotherhood sentiment, suggesting anyone associated with the veteran movement is a traitor and threat to national security.

Qatar, a Gulf Arab monarchy that funds Al Jazeera, backs the Brotherhood, a position that has strained its ties with Egypt and other Gulf Arab states since Mursi's ousting last July. (Reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Alison Williams)

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