An Egyptian judge has ordered a pair of Al-Jazeera English journalists be released on bail as their retrial on terror-related charges continues.
The decision comes less than two weeks after the deportation of the reporters’ Australian colleague, Peter Greste, under a new law allowing Egypt’s president to deport foreign defendants or convicts.
Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, who recently renounced his Egyptian citizenship, is widely expected to be similarly deported.
Fahmy was ordered to pay US $33,000 in bail, far more than any of the other defendants.
A third Al-Jazeera English defendant, Baher Mohammed, holds no foreign citizenship and is not eligible for the deportation option.
He and the remaining defendants – 11 mostly students charged with involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood – are also being freed. The next session in the retrial is scheduled for February 23.
The families of the defendants cheered the decision.
The fiancee of Fahmy, Marwa Omara, broke down in tears. She told reporters: “I am very happy. It is a rebirth for me and Mohamed.”
She said they will plan their long-delayed wedding now that Fahmy is to be released.
The wife of Mohammed also broke down in tears. “I am happy but my happiness is incomplete until he gets acquitted.”
Mohammed’s wife delivered a child while he was in detention.
Judge Hassan Farid ordered the defendants not to leave “their homeland” and to report to their local police station each morning.
The Al-Jazeera English journalists were initially sentenced to at least seven years in prison before a retrial was ordered.
Fahmy and Mohammed were in court today behind a soundproof glass cage for the first time – a recent feature in Egyptian courts, as authorities seek to limit the ability of defendants to protest or interrupt proceedings.
The judge controls when the defendants can be heard through a microphone, and families and lawyers complained that it was hard to see the defendants inside the courtroom cage.
Mr Greste was freed following a new decree granting Egypt’s president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi the power to deport foreigners.
Many expect the Cairo Criminal Court to release Fahmy, who dropped his Egyptian citizenship to be eligible for deportation.
He told the court today that he was asked to drop his citizenship to be guaranteed freedom. He said a senior security official asked him initially to give up his citizenship because the case became a “nightmare” for Egypt.
“Strange feeling to watch my cell mates and brothers Fahmy & Baher in court from the outside. My heart is in the cage with them,” Mr Greste tweeted before the session began.