Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed (L-R) listen to the ruling at a court in Cairo June 23, 2014. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih
CAIRO, Jan 1 (Aswat Masriya) – The Egyptian Court of Cassation ordered on Thursday the retrial of three journalists from Qatari news network al-Jazeera sentenced to seven to ten years in prison last year for charges including creating a “terrorist media cell”.
The defendants are to remain in prison until the first session of their retrial, when the court can order their release pending the trial, a judicial source said.
A criminal court sentenced the three journalists to seven years in prison in June 2013 on charges of defaming Egypt and spreading false news in the case known as the "Marriott Cell".
The three defendants are Australian award-winning journalist Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian former BBC producer Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed. The latter was sentenced to an additional three years for arms possession.
They have completed one year in jail last Monday.
The defendants were not brought into court. The session was attended by delegations from the Australian and Canadian embassies in solidarity with the journalists.
The countries' ambassadors stressed they will continue to defend the journalists, telling the press they had “hoped for the[ir] release.”
One of the lawyers representing the defendants in court, Shaaban Saeed, described the initial verdict as “flawed”, citing legal errors and a breach of the defence’s rights. The lawyer said the defendants were “physically and morally coerced” and forced to confess to crimes they have not committed.
“I am happy with today’s decision as it confirms that the defendants have faced injustice,” Saeed said.
Fahmy’s fiancé Marwa Omara was among those who made it to court on Thursday. She expressed her displeasure with the decision, saying she has requested from the prosecutor general to refer Fahmy to trial in Canada.
Omara reminded that her fiancé suffers from Hepatitis C and an arm injury, saying that remaining in jail “poses as a threat to his life.”
Several human rights organisations and journalists have criticised last June's verdict. The United Kingdom and Netherlands both summoned the Egyptian ambassador to protest against the "disappointing" verdict.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued last November a decree allowing the deportation of foreign defendants and convicts "whenever the [state's] supreme interest necessitates so."
Greste and Fahmy could benefit from the aforementioned decree.
Sisi has repeated stressed the importance of respecting judicial rulings when commenting on the journalists’ imprisonment. He nevertheless expressed in July his wish that the journalists had been deported rather than jailed.
Egyptian ties with Qatar have deteriorated following the army's ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July, which was prompted by mass protests against his rule.
Qatar was a strong supporter of Mursi's regime.
The tension has strongly reflected on Jazeera, which Egypt has repeatedly accused of showing bias toward the Muslim Brotherhood.
Jazeera's Cairo bureau was shut down after the ouster of Mursi in July 2013. The administrative court ordered on September 3 Egypt's NileSat Satellite to halt the channel's broadcast.
Jazeera suspended on December 22 the broadcast of its Egyptian channel, Jazeera Mubasher Misr, two days after Egypt and Qatar "responded" to the Saudi monarch's invitation "to consolidate relations between them".
The suspension will last until the "circumstances are appropriate" for return, the channel said. It added that it is seeking the conclusion of necessary permits for broadcasting in Egypt, in coordination with the authorities.
Egypt and Qatar both embraced an appeal by Saudi King Abdullah to consolidate relations between them," the Saudi Royal Court announced on Saturday.