CAIRO – An Egyptian appeals court ordered a trial Thursday in the case of three imprisoned Al-Jazeera English journalists.
The decision by Egypt's Court of Cassation that lasted only a few minutes. However, Canadian-Egyptian Mohammed Fahmy, Australian journalist Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohammed, who have been held their arrest December 2013, were not granted bail.
The three journalists did not attend the brief hearing that began around 9 a.m. local time (0700 GMT, 2 a.m. EST) in Cairo. Reporters gathered to report on the hearing were not allowed in for those arguments, but later entered the court.
Defense lawyer Negad Al-Borai told journalists after the hearing that he hoped for a "happy end" to the case.
"The court has the right to release them today," he said.
Fahmy and Greste were sentenced to seven years in prison, while Mohammed got 10 years — three more because he was found with a spent bullet casing. Rights groups dismissed the trial as a sham and foreign countries, including the U.S., expressed their concern over the journalists' detention.
Authorities accused Qatar-based Al-Jazeera of acting as a mouthpiece for the Brotherhood. The station denied the accusations and said the journalists were doing their job.
At trial, prosecutors offered no evidence backing accusations the three falsified footage to foment unrest. Instead, they showed edited news reports by the journalists, including Islamist protests and interviews with politicians. Other footage submitted as evidence had nothing to do with the case, including a report on a veterinary hospital and Greste's past reports out of Africa.
The Court of Cassation, Egypt's highest appeal tribunal, will review the lower court's proceedings, not the case itself. It can uphold the previous verdict or order a retrial.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi also has the power to pardon or deport the foreigners under a new law, whether or not the court grants the appeal. That would allow Greste to go home and would allow Fahmy to go to Canada if he drops his Egyptian nationality. Mohammed's case would remain more uncertain as he holds only Egyptian citizenship.
A recent thaw in relations between Qatar and Egypt has seen Al-Jazeera shut down its Egyptian affiliate, which dedicated much of its coverage to Islamist protests since Morsi's overthrow. El-Sissi said last month a presidential pardon for the three was being "examined" and would be granted only if it was "appropriate for Egyptian national security."