An Egyptian appeals court on Thursday ordered the retrial of Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy and his two Al Jazeera English colleagues held for over a year on terror-related charges, a ruling their lawyers hoped would help resolve a case that brought a storm of international criticism on Egypt's government.
Thursday's ruling by the Court of Cassation, rights advocates said, exposed the highly politicized nature of their initial conviction and heavy sentences of up to 10 years in prison in a trial that they dismissed as a sham with no evidence.
Mr. Fahmy's brother, Sherif, said the family had expected a retrial would be granted, but were disappointed he was not released on bail until the new proceedings begin.
"We were banking on a retrial with a release," another brother, Adel, said. "I was expecting something better today."
The Canadian government welcomed the appeal court decision in a statement Thursday and said it expects the new trial "to be conducted in a fair, transparent, and expedited manner."
Mr. Fahmy and his colleagues – Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed – have argued they were targeted because of the Egyptian government's political fight with Qatar, the Gulf nation that finances the Al Jazeera news network.
The two countries have been at odds over Qatar's support of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egyptian authorities have cracked down on ferociously since the July, 2013, military ouster of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.
Hopes have been raised that Egypt's government now intends to free the men because of a recent public reconciliation between Egypt and Qatar. A date for the new trial was not immediately set.
Ottawa is providing consular assistance to Mr. Fahmy, who has suffered a number of health problems while in prison.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said last month that he intended to travel to Egypt in the coming weeks to press for Mr. Fahmy's release but his office would not confirm any plans on Thursday.
Under a recently passed law, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has the power to deport the foreigners during their trial. That would allow Mr. Greste to go home and would allow Mr. Fahmy to go to Canada if he drops his Egyptian nationality.
His brother, Sherif, said the family had already submitted such a request and is hoping Mr. Fahmy will be allowed to leave Egypt with Mr. Baird, when he travels there. "We hope that his arrival to Cairo could mean an implementation of this deportation and hopefully he will take Mohamed back with him."
Mr. Baird has said he's met twice with his Egyptian counterpart in the past month, most recently in Bahrain, where he brought up the journalist's imprisonment. Mr. Baird has said he also met with Egypt's ambassador to Canada last month to discuss Mr. Fahmy's possible release.
Mr. Fahmy and Mr. Greste were arrested in a December, 2013, raid while covering the wave of protests by Mr. Morsi's Islamist supporters. The three were charged with helping terrorists by acting as the Brotherhood's mouthpiece and falsifying news to destabilize Egypt.
In their initial trial, prosecutors presented no concrete evidence of a connection to the Brotherhood, only samples of the team's news reports on protests, among other stories.
Mr. Fahmy and Mr. Greste were sentenced to seven years in prison, while Mr. Mohamed got 10 years. All three argued they were arrested for just doing their jobs.
Since Mr. Morsi's fall, Egyptian authorities vilified the Al Jazeera network as doing Qatar's bidding in supporting the Brotherhood and fuelling Islamist protests. The station denies the accusations.
The three journalists did not attend Thursday's hearing at the Court of Cassation that lasted less than 30 minutes.
With a report from Shawn McCarthy in Ottawa