Parents of Australian journalist Peter Greste say they are « shocked » by an Egyptian appeals court decision to order a retrial of their son and two of his Al Jazeera colleagues.
Greste, along with Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed have been behind bars since December 29, 2013 in a case that sparked a global outcry.
He was sentenced to seven years on charges of defaming Egypt and aiding banned Islamists, prompting claims their trial was politically motivated and demands for a presidential pardon.
Lawyers for the trio on Thursday presented brief arguments to the Court of Cassation before the matter was adjourned.
Shortly after, the court returned with its decision to set aside the convictions and order a retrial.
Greste’s mother and father, Lois and Juris, were in Egypt to attend the hearing.
Outside court, Lois Greste said: « I can’t believe it. »
« We need some time to process. It’s not as positive as we had hoped. »
« I’m shocked, » Juris Greste added.
Australian ambassador Ralph King, accompanying them, said: « Journalists should not be imprisoned for doing their job. I hope this trial will be fair and transparent. »
Appeals court could not consider bail
Amid speculation that president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi could pardon or deport the men, lawyers and relatives had hoped the decision would include an immediate release on bail.
However no bail was awarded for the three journalists, who were not transported to the court for the hearing.
« Their release on bail can only be ordered by the court that will hold their retrial, » said Greste’s lawyer, Amr Al-Deeb.
« They will not be released until they appear before the new chamber, which will decide whether to release them or not, » added defence attorney Mostafa Nagy, who represents Greste and Mohamed.
He and another defence attorney said the judge had not set a date for the new trial although they believed proceedings could begin within a month.
The Court of Cassation had the ability to order a retrial in the case, issue a new verdict or acquit the three journalists.
The journalists’ lawyers can apply for bail during the first retrial hearing.
Media were not allowed inside the courtroom to witness the start of proceedings, but were later granted access without cameras.
I think it’s encouraging that the court has recognised the need for a retrial, but … it could be a lengthy process to bring that about.
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said last year that he could not consider a plea of clemency or a pardon until all legal proceedings had been concluded, including an appeal.
Dr Bob Bowker, a former Australian ambassador to Egypt, said he expected the court would find there was a need to reconsider the verdict but not necessarily to order a full retrial.
« I think it’s encouraging that the court has recognised the need for a retrial, but I am concerned that it could be a lengthy process to bring that about, » he told ABC News 24.
« Given the political sensitivities of this case, I would expect that the Egyptian government would try to encourage the court to set an early date for a retrial. »
Dr Bowker said Greste’s family would be disappointed that bail was not granted.
« The family has shown remarkable discipline and resilience in the face of all these tribulations, » he said.
Australia should ‘shirtfront’ Egyptian officials
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera television called for the swift release of the journalists, and said Egypt’s international standing would be further damaged by the more time the men spent in custody.
« The Egyptian authorities have a simple choice – free these men quickly or continue to string this out, all the while continuing this injustice and harming the image of their own country in the eyes of the world, » the channel said.
Human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC said the court’s decision was the worst possible result.
« Let’s face it, Peter and his colleagues are completely innocent, » he said.
« I have read the judgment in translation. There is no evidence whatsoever that they published false reports. Their reports were true.
« Any honest bench of judges should and could have simply held that the men were innocent. »
Mr Robertson said the Australian Government should step up its lobbying of Egypt to have Greste released.
« It is about time that if Australia believes in freedom of speech, we should shirtfront these people who have made such a nonsense of it and are really holding Peter and his colleagues as hostages, » he said.