Three lawyers representing Al-Jazeera English journalists on trial in Egypt abruptly quit the case on Thursday, accusing the Doha-based network of using the arrest of their staff to tarnish the country's image.
The three lawyers' decision came during a hearing for the men in Cairo in which prosecutors said lawyers for the journalists must pay $700,000 for copies of the evidence against them.
Canadian-Egyptian acting bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy, Australian correspondent Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed are facing charges of belonging to and aiding a terrorist group, namely the Muslim Brotherhood. That's the group from which ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi hails. They also face charges of fabricating footage to undermine Egypt's national security.
The journalists and the network deny the charges. At the hearing, lawyer Farag Fathi stood in front of Judge Mohammed Nagi Shehata to denounce the network.
"The Al-Jazeera channel is offending Egypt," Fathi said. He also claimed the network attributed comments to him on air that he didn't say.
The three lawyers represent both Greste and Mohammed. Their decision to quit raised fears among the journalists it would harm their chances in court.
"What the lawyer did makes us look bad!" Fahmy shouted to journalists from behind bars. "We are very angry with the way this is unfolding!"
Police arrested the three journalists December 29 after police raided a Cairo hotel room they used as an office.
In previous hearings, prosecutors offered video clips found with the journalists about an animal hospital with donkeys and horses, and another about Christian life in Egypt as evidence of their crimes. Defense lawyers and even the judge dismissed the footage as irrelevant.
In addition to the three journalists, 14 other people are charged in the case. All but nine are being tried in absentia, though one newly arrested defendant attended the trial for the first time today. Other defendants include student supporters of the Brotherhood, including a son of a high-ranking leader Mohammed el-Beltagy. The journalists say they have no relationship with the students.