A leading Egyptian rights activist has been freed from jail pending a new trial. Saad Eddin Ibrahim had been convicted on charges of defaming Egypt's image, but Wednesday the country's highest appeals court overturned the conviction.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a 63-year-old sociology professor walked out of an Egyptian jail one a day after an appeals court granted him a new trial. He was greeted by his American wife, his daughter, and other family members and friends.

U.S. Ambassador David Welch, who was in the appeals court Wednesday when the decision was reached, said he is pleased by the court decision. He said the United States had repeatedly expressed concern about the fairness of Mr. Ibrahim's trial.

The case has drawn attention from the United States because Mr. Ibrahim, who has studied and taught in the United States, holds American and Egyptian citizenship.

He is one of Egypt's best known human-rights activists. Last May, Mr. Ibrahim and 27 other people were found guilty of defaming Egypt by spreading what were called false reports about election fraud and relations between Muslims and Christians.

In a separate charge, Mr. Ibrahim was also found guilty of receiving European Union donations for his private research center without approval from the Egyptian government. He was sentenced to seven-years in prison.

Eight of those charged with him were given sentences of one to seven years. The other 18 received suspended sentences.

The convictions drew protests from human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, which said they were politically motivated.

Ibrahim Abaza, one of the attorneys who represented Mr. Ibrahim, said his client did nothing illegal and was jailed because he angered powerful people. Mr. Arbaza said, "what happened to Mr. Ibrahim does not correlate with the law. He said "maybe some people did not like him for political or personal reasons because they felt nervous about his political statements or his research."

Abdel Moneim Sa'id is the head of the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. He testified on Mr. Ibrahim's behalf and said he is close friends with the activist. But he does not think the convictions were politically motivated, and said the appeals court ruling shows the Egyptian judicial system is working. "It was a legal case, not a political case, and people should not take out of it anything related to the political system in Egypt," he said. "And I have trusted Saad Eddin Ibrahim's innocence from the beginning as I had trust in the Egyptian legal system. It might be slow, it might have some problems, like many other things in Egypt, but it has the respect and the dignity to finally take the right decision."

A new trial date has not yet been set.