Alaa Abdel-Fattah and two more renowned political activists were released late Monday shortly after a Cairo criminal court ordered their release on bail as the defendants are set for a retrial.
Abdel-Fattah, Mohamed Abdel-Rahman aka Noubi and Wael Metwally were sentenced to 15-years in prison and fined LE100,000 (about $14,200) on 11 June on charges of organising an illegal protest, rioting, destruction of public property and using violence against security forces. They were sentenced along with 22 others in absentia but only the trio, who was appealing against the sentence, was imprisoned.
The court referred a personal video used against Abdel-Fattah to the prosecution to investigate who was responsible for using it in court as evidence against the activist on 10 September. The court also recused itself in the case, which means the sentence is revoked and a retrial for all defendants is to be scheduled.
The decision of the prosecutors to use the video – which showed Abdel-Fattah's wife belly dancing at a family party, according to those who attended last week's session – as part of the evidence against the defendant sparked outrage by Abdel-Fattah and his lawyers in court.
Defence lawyer and prominent activist Khaled Ali questioned both the relevance and morality of showing it.
Abdel-Fattah's lawyer added that Monday's ruling comes "in accordance with the law," charging that the in absentia nature of the first verdict was legally questionable because security forces had prevented Abdel-Fattah from entering the courthouse to attend the trial's proceedings.
Ali, defence lawyer and activist, also welcomed the court's decision to recuse itself as he says there's an existing feud between the defendants and the presiding judge, according to Al-Ahram's Arabic news website.
Monday's court decision comes amid a hunger strike campaign that was initiated in August by Abdel-Fattah, Noubi, Metwally and tens of other political detainees and supporters which has picked up momentum in recent weeks.
At least 82 people Egyptian prisoners are on a hunger strike to denounce the protest law while more than 242 others outside of detention – including families, activists and journalists – have joined the strike in solidarity.
Seven of those charged in the case have staged an open-ended sit-in at Egypt's National Human Rights Council to demand the protest law be revoked, the release of political detainees and the cancellation of all verdicts issued under the law's provisions.
At least seven political parties have temporarily joined the hunger strike in solidarity.
Nasser Amin, a member of Egypt's Human Rights Council, said last week that the protest law is currently undergoing an amendment phase.
Egypt's interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim said on Sunday that he "does not have any problem" with the law being amended.