Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy asks judge to set him free

An Egyptian-Canadian journalist on trial in Cairo directly asked a judge on Monday to release him, insisting the terrorism charges against him are unfounded.

'Have you ever heard of a (Muslim) terrorist that drinks alcohol?'

Al-Jazeera English bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy, left, producer Baher Mohamed, centre and correspondent Peter Greste, right, asked a Cairo judge to set them free. (Associated Press)

An Egyptian-Canadian journalist on trial in Cairo directly asked a judge on Monday to release him, insisting the terrorism charges against him are unfounded.

The request by Mohamed Fahmy, and his Al-Jazeera English co-workers, Australian Peter Greste and Baher Mohammed, came during a hearing in the trial, which marks the first time journalists have been charged with terrorism-related offences in Egypt.

The charges against the three — and 17 others — are based on the Egyptian authorities' accusations that they provided a platform to the Muslim Brotherhood group of ousted president Mohammed Morsi, which the government has declared a terrorist organization.

Their families and their employer say they were just doing their job as journalists.

Fahmy, Greste and Mohammed spoke after they were allowed out of their defendants' cage, which serves as the dock in Egyptian trials.

"I ask for acquittal," demanded Fahmy.

He told judge Mohammed Nagi Shehata that he was an alcohol-drinking liberal who lived abroad for a long time, and added: "Have you ever heard of a (Muslim) terrorist that drinks alcohol?"

Greste addressed the judge in a similar vein.

"The idea that I could [have] an association with the Muslim Brotherhood is frankly preposterous," he said.

The trial was then adjourned until April 10.

Egypt's military-backed government last December declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization, a decision that appeared to be largely based on bombings that a Sinai militant group has claimed responsibility for.

The Brotherhood denies it practices or advocates violence but protests by its supporters since Morsi's ouster last July have grown increasingly violent.

Arrested in hotel room

Within days after the Brotherhood was outlawed, Fahmy and his two colleagues were arrested in their hotel room in Cairo, from where they worked after their offices had been repeatedly raided by authorities.

Of the other 17 defendants in the trial, six are employed by Al-Jazeera, according to the network, and are being tried in absentia.

The others have been identified as Brotherhood members and supporters, activists, and a journalist who visited Fahmy at the hotel.

Since Morsi's ouster by the military, Egypt has seen a heavy crackdown on his supporters, with several thousand detained and hundreds killed in political violence.

Fahmy and his colleagues have pleaded not guilty.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has said he's met with his Egyptian counterpart to discuss Fahmy's case. Canadian officials have told Fahmy's family that his dual citizenship has placed limits on how much they can do.

Fahmy's family moved to Canada in 1991. He lived in Montreal and Vancouver for years before eventually moving abroad for work, which included covering stories for the New York Times and CNN.