The main lawyers representing Australian journalist Peter Greste and another Al Jazeera reporter on trial in Cairo have quit in court, accusing the Qatari broadcaster of working against Egypt.
Greste, watching the proceedings from the caged dock, appeared taken aback when his lawyers announced to the judge that they were quitting the case, which has sparked international concern for the detained reporters.
The Australian is on trial with four other journalists for the Qatar-based broadcaster on charges of aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood and defaming Egypt.
Only three of the journalists are in prison, along with six other defendants in the case.
The rest of the 20 defendants are abroad or in hiding.
In Thursday’s session, lead defence lawyer Farag Fathy said he and two colleagues also representing producer Baher Mohamed would no longer represent the reporters.
“Al Jazeera is using my clients. I have emails from (the channel) telling me they don’t care about the defendants and care about insulting Egypt,” Fathy told the court.
He accused the Qatari channel of “fabricating quotes” and attributing them to him, in their coverage of the trial.
“I am baffled. This is the first time we have heard of this problem,” Greste told reporters from the dock.
The military-installed authorities have been incensed by Al Jazeera’s coverage of their crackdown on supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi after his overthrow by the military in July.
At least 1400 people, mostly Islamists, have been killed in street clashes since, and more than 15,000 have been jailed.
A third journalist, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, the Cairo bureau chief of Al Jazeera English, is also in custody.
His lawyer, Ibrahim Abdel Wahab, accused prosecutors of trying to “hinder” his work.
“They asked us to pay 1.2 million pounds (about $A182,500) to get copies of the evidence”, he told AFP.
One defendant, Khaled Abdel Rahman, was present on Thursday in the dock after being arrested recently.
“I have never collaborated with Al Jazeera and I never sent videos to the channel. I am not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and I don’t know why I am in this dock,” he told AFP.
The trial was adjourned until May 22.