A Cairo court postponed the verdict in the retrial of Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy for a second time on Sunday, prolonging the former Al-Jazeera English bureau chief's 19 month ordeal until August 29.
Last year, Mr. Fahmy, Australian journalist Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed were sentenced to seven to ten years in jail on a swath of terrorism-related charges in a trial that sparked widespread condemnation and threw Egypt's crackdown on independent media into the international spotlight.
Mr. Fahmy, an award-winning journalist who previously worked for CNN, spent 411 days in prison before an appeals court threw out the original verdict in January and ordered a retrial. At the end of January, Mr. Greste was deported to Australia, and in February, Mr. Fahmy and Mr. Mohamed were released on bail.
The court had been expected to deliver a verdict on July 30, but Mr. Fahmy was told upon arrival at Cairo's Tora prison complex that there would be no trial that day and was ushered away by police from outside the court with no official explanation given for the delay. After much confusion over the date of the postponement, a court secretary confirmed to Mr. Fahmy's lawyers that the verdict would take place on Sunday.
But on Sunday, presiding judge Hassan Farid was not present in court. During a brief session in a courtroom packed with international journalists and foreign diplomats, including Canadian ambassador Troy Lulashnyk, court officials announced the verdict would again be postponed until August 29.
Mr. Fahmy and his co-defendants, still given no official reason for the postponement, have speculated the delay could be due to the visit on Sunday of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrived for strategic dialogue. Others speculated that it was due to the opening of a new Suez canal on August 6, a project the Egyptian government has called "Egypt's gift to the world" and seen as a bid by president Abdel Fattah al-Sissi's to show his resolve as the country struggles with instability, international criticism of its human rights record and a slow economy.
"I think this is about the Suez Canal, they don't want any problems before the opening," said Mr. Mohamed outside the court. The timing of the delay has raised fears a harsh verdict could be imminent.
Others have speculated the delay was because judge Farid had fallen ill, a theory given weight with his absence in court on Sunday.
"I don't know if the judge is ill, I don't know what is happening, I just want this to be over," said Mr. Mohamed.
In a statement following the delay of the verdict on Thursday, Canada's minister of state for consular affairs Lynne Yelich called on Egypt to use "all the tools at its disposal" to resolve Mr. Fahmy's case, saying Canada was "deeply concerned over Mr. Fahmy's current situation and disappointed by the continued delay in his trial."
"I didn't expect it would be delayed like this, until the 29th, it's too far," said Marwa Omara, Mr. Fahmy's wife, as she waited for him outside court following the Sunday's session. "He was supposed to start lecturing [at the University of British Colombia] on the first of September."
"This will definitely effect his plans, it will effect his life," she said.