In this Monday, March 31, 2014 file photo, Al-Jazeera English bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, center, producer Baher Mohamed, left, stand in a courtroom along with several other defendants during their trial on terror charges, in Cairo, Egypt (Photo: AP)
Two Al Jazeera journalists, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, were released on bail on Thursday by a Cairo criminal court after spending over a year in prison.
The court postponed the first session in a retrial of the journalists and a number of other defendants to 23 February and ordered the release of all defendants pending trial, prompting cheers from relatives of the men attending the hearing.
All the defendants were released without paying bail costs except for Fahmy who was ordered to pay $33,000.
The session was attended by the families of the defendants as well as scores of international and local journalists.
Three Al Jazeera journalists – Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed – were convicted last year on charges of spreading false news and aiding the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group.
Earlier this month Greste was released and deported to his native country, under the provisions of a newly issued law allowing foreign nationals to be deported to serve their sentence or be retried in their own country.
Eighteen defendants in the case, including the three journalists, were sentenced in June 2014 to jail terms ranging from seven to 10 years. Eleven were tried in absentia.
In January 2014, the Court of Cassation overturned the sentences and ordered a retrial citing a lack of evidence presented to support the charges.
In Thursday’s session, defence lawyers demanded the formation of a technical committee to examine video footage on the journalists’ laptops which was used as evidence against them in the first trial.
Soon after the deportation of Greste, Fahmy renounced his Egyptian nationality, apparently in hope of benefitting from the same law.
During Thursday’s session however, Fahmy said he was “duped” into giving up his nationality, and held up an Egyptian flag in court.
Earlier this week, Fahmy’s family said Egyptian authorities forced him to renounce citizenship as the "only way out," while Fahmy himself "never requested that he drop his citizenship."
The jailing of the three journalists provoked an international outcry, and the trial and subsequent guilty verdict were widely criticised by local and international rights advocates.