A Cairo judge Thursday ordered the release on bail of two journalists for Al Jazeera English at the start of their retrial on terrorism-related charges.
Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed have spent more than 13 months in jail. Their Australian colleague, Peter Greste, was released and deported last week.
The case has been closely watched by human rights groups and media advocacy organizations. The arrest of the three journalists came amid a wide-ranging crackdown on opponents of the Egyptian government, and their supporters said the charges were politically motivated and an attack on media freedom.
In a statement, Al Jazeera welcomed Thursday’s move as “a small step in the right direction,” but repeated its call for the case to be dismissed.
The Qatar-owned news channel ran afoul of Egyptian authorities when the Persian Gulf emirate denounced the popularly supported 2013 coup in which Islamist Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, was removed from office. The feud dragged on for months as Qatar called for Morsi’s reinstatement, but relations have recently begun to thaw.
In their original trial, the three journalists were sentenced to seven to 10 years in jail on charges of making false reports intended to aid Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which has been branded a terrorist group. Their conviction was overturned by an appeals court.
Bail for Fahmy, who was the channel’s acting Cairo bureau chief at the time of his arrest, was set at nearly $33,000. Mohamed was released on his own recognizance.
Supporters, who had mounted a worldwide social media campaign on behalf of the journalists, have sought to keep a spotlight on the case since Greste’s release. He was freed under terms of a presidential decree that allows for foreigners convicted of a crime to be deported and theoretically serve their sentence in their home countries.
Fahmy, an Egyptian who holds a Canadian passport, gave up his Egyptian citizenship in the hope of being deported as well. Mohamed holds only Egyptian nationality.
The retrial was to resume Feb. 23.