Asmaa Waguih / Reuters

Egypt orders retrial of Al Jazeera staff

Court of Cassation accepts the appeal of three Al Jazeera journalists, who will remain in jail until the retrial

Egypt's top court has accepted the appeal of three Al Jazeera journalists who have been in prison for more than a year, and ordered a retrial, the defense lawyer has said.

"They will not be released until they appear before the new chamber, which will decide whether to release them or not," said Mostafa Nagy, a defense attorney, on Thursday.

Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were denied bail at the appeal hearing as the court said the case had to go back to the criminal court.

"The Court of Cassation has accepted their appeal and ordered a retrial," Greste's lawyer Amr Al-Deeb said after a hearing lasting just 30 minutes.

After the conviction was overruled by the court of cassation today, an Al Jazeera spokesman said: 

"Baher, Peter and Mohammed have been unjustly in jail for over a year now. 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. They should choose the former."

Defence lawyer Negad Al-Borai told journalists after the hearing that he hoped for a "happy end" to the case.

"The court has the right to release them today," he said.

Defense lawyers said they believed a retrial for the three men would be held within a month.

Greste's brothers Mike and Andrew said they were disappointed with the court's decision.

"We have learned in the past that this is not over until he is out and it looks like we have a long road ahead of us."

Adel Fahmy, Mohammed Fahmy's brother, said he had hoped his brother would have been freed on Thursday. He said each lawyer received three minutes to argue their stance on the case.

"I hoped for more today," he said.

Jehan Rashed, Baher Mohammed's wife, said she also expected her husband would be set free today, but thought the development was still a positive step.

"I was nervously waiting for the court's decision from the morning, thank God they accepted the appeal, and this is a small but positive step towards my husband being freed," said Rashed. 

Egyptian authorities offered no immediate comment on the ruling.

Amnesty International said the retrial acknowledged major flaws in the original convictions.

"These men should never have been jailed in the first place and should not have to spend one more day in prison. Instead of prolonging their unjust detention pending a retrial, they must be freed immediately," said Hassiba Hadjsahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director.

Falsely accused

The three journalists did not attend the brief hearing that began around 9am local time (0700 GMT) in Cairo.

Reporters gathered to report on the hearing were not allowed in for those arguments, but later entered the court.

The trio have been imprisoned in Egypt for 369 days, after being falsely accused and then found guilty of aiding the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Greste and Fahmy were sentenced to seven years in prison, while Mohamed received an additional three years for having a spent bullet in his possession, which he had picked up at a protest site.

The journalists have repeatedly said that they were being punished for just doing their jobs.

The judge who sentenced the journalists released his reasoning in July, saying they were brought together "by the devil" to destabilise the country.

Al Jazeera has called the accusations against its three journalists absurd and has demanded their release.

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