An Egyptian court has said it will deliver its verdict next week on three Al Jazeera journalists accused of aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood and reporting “false news”.
Judge Mohamed Nagui Shehata on Monday told the 12th session of the trial in Cairo that he had reserved June 23 to pronounce the verdict against Baher Mohamed, Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy.
The three journalists have now been held for 170 days on charges that Al Jazeera strongly denies.
Egyptian prosecutors have demanded the maximum penalty of 15-25 years in jail for all defendants, but defence lawyers and relatives expect the accused to be acquitted.
The prosecution has submitted as evidence items including a pop video by Gotye, a faked photograph, a BBC podcast and videos made outside of Egypt about an animal hospital.
The trial, which began on February 20, has triggered international outrage amid fears of growing media restrictions in Egypt.
Of those on trial, 16 are Egyptians charged with joining the Brotherhood, which was designated a “terrorist” organisation in December following the army’s overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July.
“Today was the final summation by the defence, again the weaknesses of the prosecution case has been exposed. On the balance of arguments, Al Jazeera hopes the judge will take into consideration the facts presented to him and acquit Peter, Baher and Mohammed of any wrong doing,” said Al Jazeera’s spokesman Osama Saeed.
“On June 23, the entire world will be watching Egypt to see whether they uphold the values of press freedom.”
Nine of the 20 defendants are in custody, with the rest being tried in absentia.
During the hearings Greste, a Peabody Award-winning journalist, and his co-defendants have denounced the trial as “unfair and political”, charging that the evidence against them had been “fabricated”.
Some of their co-defendants have claimed to have been tortured in prison. “For six months now we have been treated like terrorists with weapons,” Fahmy told the court on Monday.
“A television channel cannot destroy a country,” said Fahmy. The authorities have previously said that the accused were operating in Egypt without any valid media accreditation.