An Egyptian appeals court has overturned an initial verdict that sentenced three al-Jazeera English journalists to seven to 10 years in prison, paving the way for a retrial. But family members and supporters expressed disappointment the journalists were not released immediately, pending retrial.
The appellate court decision to throw out the verdict in the case of three al-Jazeera TV journalists drew applause and criticism, after the judicial panel ruled the men must be retried. But the presiding judge said he did not have the authority to release the men on bail.
Reporters were not allowed to attend the court session and the ruling was handed down quickly. Family members of the three journalists, as well as their attorneys expressed anger that the men were not acquitted or released on bail.
Marwa Omara, the fiancee of al-Jazeera producer Mohamed Fahmy, was saddened by the verdict and told journalists she hoped Egyptian authorities would use their power to find a quick resolution to the journalists' detention.
"I can not even imagine that he will stay for a year in prison," she said. "His lawyer, Amal Clooney, just applied to the Egyptian presidency and the Egyptian prosecutor for Mohamed to be deported to Canada and be treated as a Canadian citizen and to continue the trial there."
Egyptian authorities accuse the men of operating “illegally” without press credentials. The government closed al-Jazeera TV's offices in August 2013, accusing it of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.
The network has insisted the three were doing their jobs reporting the news, not aiding the Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi, the country's first freely elected president who was toppled by the army on July 3, 2013.
The group had been holding street demonstrations, some of which turned violent, to protest Morsi's ouster.
Al-Jazeera's Acting General Manager Mostefa Souag applauded the appeals court decision, but said the journalists should be released.
He says that he welcomes the decision by the appellate court to accept the appeal presented by the imprisoned al-Jazeera journalists, but would also have liked that they be released, since they are being held unjustly. The decision against them, he says, as well as their arrest and trial were politically motivated and their presence in an Egyptian jail remains political.
Egyptian editor and publisher Hisham Kassem said that despite the background of a regional spat between Egypt and Qatar over the latter's support for the Muslim Brotherhood group, he thinks the condemnation of the journalists was unfair.
“The initial verdict is a sham," he said. "It's full of procedural mistakes and the [appellate] court has been known to shoot down rulings like these. So regardless of what is going on between Egypt and Qatar right now, we were going to get the same ruling today. However, as there has been a mistrial, I don't see why they should remain under arrest pending trial and this is where the Prosecutor General probably can interfere and have them released until the new date for trial."
There has been some speculation in the Egyptian media that President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi might pardon the three men, but Kassem believes that unlikely, if only for procedural reasons, until a final verdict in a retrial is reached.