UPDATE: Egypt court postpones Jazeera retrial verdict

 An Egyptian court postponed on Thursday its verdict in the retrial of three Al-Jazeera journalists, dashing their hopes for a quick end to a legal ordeal that has sparked a global outcry.


The ruling is now expected on August 8.

Australia's Peter Greste, Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were sentenced to prison last year for "spreading false news" in support of the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood during their coverage of the turmoil after the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

Greste, who has since been deported, and Fahmy received seven years in the initial trial, while Mohamed was jailed for 10 years.

An appeals court ordered a retrial, saying the verdict lacked evidence against the three journalists working for the Doha-based network's English channel.

On Thursday the court did not hold its much-anticipated session, with a defence lawyer saying he had been told it was postponed.

The brother of Fahmy also told AFP that the verdict had been pushed back.

"A court official told me that the trial has been postponed until August 8," Adel Fahmy said.

Mohamed Hassan Sarid, the son of the trial judge and a prosecutor himself, told AFP by telephone that his father postponed the session because he was ill.

Al-Jazeera said it was angry at the adjournment.

"We are extremely angry that the verdict has been adjourned today," the broadcaster's English-language channel said on Twitter.

Thursday's session had been keenly awaited by rights groups and families of defendants.

"The entire world has its eyes turned on Egypt because this is a decisive trial for media freedom," the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said Wednesday.

If convicted, the journalists can appeal to Egypt's Court of Cassation, which can uphold or cancel the ruling. If it cancels the verdict it will examine the case itself.

Greste has already been deported under a law allowing the transfer of foreigners on trial to their home countries but he is still being retried in absentia.

Fahmy and his Egyptian producer Mohamed were freed on bail earlier this year, having spent more than 400 days in detention.

"Trying to remain optimistic as the final verdict draws closer," Greste wrote on his Twitter account on Wednesday.

Fahmy has renounced his Egyptian nationality, hoping that he too would be deported like Greste.

"If this trial is fair, me and my colleagues have to be acquitted," Fahmy told AFP on Wednesday, adding that a court committee had acknowledged that there had been "no fabrication" in their coverage.

– 'Just doing my job' –

"I have done nothing wrong. I was just doing my job," Mohamed said.

The court had also been due to give its ruling Thursday on five Egyptian co-defendants sentenced previously to up to 10 years for being members of the Brotherhood and for "damaging the public image of Egypt".

The three journalists were arrested in December 2013 during a crackdown on supporters of Morsi, who was ousted by then army chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after mass street protests against his sole year of divisive rule.

The initial trial came against the backdrop of strained ties between Egypt and Qatar, which supported Morsi's government.

The journalists were also accused of working without valid media accreditation.

Fahmy has since lashed out at Al-Jazeera, accusing it of negligence and backing the Brotherhood. He has sued the network for $100 million.

Al-Jazeera has repeatedly denounced the trials as "political".

The network's Arabic-language channel had condemned Morsi's removal and the subsequent police crackdown that left hundreds of people dead and thousands jailed.

Rights groups say journalists in Egypt are facing unprecedented threats from the regime installed by Sisi.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 18 journalists are locked up in Egypt, the most since it began keeping records in 1990.

"As long as there are journalists in jail, we can't say that freedom of press is respected in Egypt," Mohamed said Wednesday.

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