AN EGYPTIAN appeal court has ordered a retrial in the case of three al-Jazeera journalists held for more than a year on charges of spreading false news, overturning the original verdict in a case that has ensnared the reporters in a wider conflict between Egypt and Qatar.
The decision by Egypt’s Court of Cassation came after a hearing yesterday that lasted less than half an hour.
However, Canadian-Egyptian Mohammed Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste – a former BBC correspondent – and Egyptian Baher Mohammed, who have been held since their arrest in December 2013, were not released on bail.
The three did not attend the brief hearing that began at 9am local time in Cairo.
Defence lawyers said they believed a retrial for the three men would be held within a month and that they hoped for a speedy trial given a changing political climate between Egypt and Qatar, which is believed to be underpinning the case. The al-Jazeera satellite news network is based in Qatar, which recently promised to ease tensions in the wider Middle East by dropping its support for Islamist groups throughout the region, such as Egypt’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
Defence lawyers expressed relief over the retrial, though family members of those imprisoned said they had been hoping for their loved ones’ immediate release.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
Lois Greste, Peter Greste’s mother, said after the hearing that the verdict was “not as good as we hoped”.
Adel Fahmy, Mohammed Fahmy’s brother, said he had hoped his brother would have been freed yesterday.
He said each lawyer had received just three minutes to argue their stance on the case. He added: “I hoped for more today.”
However, legal experts said releasing the men was outwith the powers of the Court of Cassation.
Greste’s lawyer, Amr El Deeb, hailed the ruling.
He said: “This is a very good and optimistic decision. It will give them a second round of mitigation.
“Hopefully, when we go to the retrial, we can defend the defendants and present adequate support to try to set them free.”
Fahmy’s lawyer, Negad al-Borai, said seven lawyers represented the three journalists and four other defendants who are Brotherhood members.
Egyptian authorities offered no immediate comment on the ruling. The prosecutor who spoke at the hearing was not the same one who initially tried the case but was from the appeal court.
The Egyptian authorities accused al-Jazeera of acting as a mouthpiece for the Brotherhood after the July 2013 military overthrow of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi. The station has long denied the accusations and said the journalists were doing their job.
“Baher, Peter and Mohammed have been unjustly in jail for over a year now,” al-Jazeera said.
“The Egyptian authorities have a simple choice – free these men quickly or continue to string this out, all the while continuing this injustice and harming the image of their own country in the eyes of the world.”
Adel Fahmy told reporters the journalists “should not be caught in the middle of this remote conflict between two nations”.
He added: “They are the only ones paying the prices. They are being punished on behalf of Qatar and al-Jazeera.”
Fahmy and Greste were sentenced to seven years in prison at their initial trial, while Mohammed got ten years – three more because he was found with a spent bullet casing.
Rights groups dismissed the trial as a sham and many foreign countries expressed concern at the journalists’ detention.
At the trial, prosecutors offered no evidence backing accusations the three had falsified footage to foment unrest. Instead, they showed edited news reports by the journalists, including Islamist protests and interviews with politicians. Other footage submitted as evidence had nothing to do with the case, including a report on a veterinary hospital and Greste reporting from Africa.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS