The lawyer for one of three Al Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt has formally applied to the government in Cairo to have him deported to Australia.
It comes after Egypt’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, ordered a retrial, citing “procedural flaws” in the original proceedings which sparked international outrage.
Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were sentenced to seven to 10 years jail on charges including spreading lies to helping a “terrorist organisation” – a reference to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
A cameraman was arrested but released.
“They did change the law recently and that enables there to be a kind of prisoner transfer, or an accused person can be transferred back to another country, their home country, and we’re pursuing all those opportunities now,” said Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
Despite the order of a retrial there is anger that the journalists – who say they were just reporting the news – have not been freed.
The trio were not given bail and therefore must stay behind bars until the retrial.
The reporters’ imprisonment has been a thorny issue for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as he seeks to prove his commitment to democratic reforms.
“Now that Peter is essentially an innocent man, he’s not convicted any more, it does allow for some room to move and for him (Sisi) to step in … and deport him,” Greste’s brother Andrew told reporters in Brisbane.
Defence attorneys said earlier in Cairo that new proceedings could begin within a month.
Despite the widespread criticism of the case, Sisi has cited the independence of the judiciary. However, he said in November he would have preferred to have deported Greste had he been in power when the journalists were arrested in December 2013.
“By calling for a retrial the Egyptian courts are prolonging the injustice that Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed have faced,” said Amnesty International’s Hassiba Hadjsahraoui in a statement.
“These men should never have been jailed in the first place and should not have to spend one more day in prison. Instead of prolonging their unjust detention pending a retrial, they must be freed immediately,” explained Hadjsahraoui.
“The Cassation Prosecution asked for a retrial, and we put forward our basic points: that the court applied the law incorrectly, because it was formed illegally. It ignored the defense, and believed that everyone working at Al Jazeera belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, and that is illogical,” explained defendant lawyer Rajaa Awni.
The case has been blamed on Egypt’s poor relations with Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based.
“I hope the reconciliation between Egypt and Qatar continues, and is reflected in this issue, in a positive way,” said Mohammed Fahim, brother of one of the jailed journalists.
“These journalists are oppressed, they are professionals and do not belong to any terrorist group and cannot harm Egypt’s security in any way, and I hope they are released,” he added.
“The trial of these three men was a complete farce,” said Amnesty International’s Hadjsahraoui. “Their only crime was to challenge the political narrative of the authorities.
“All three are prisoners of conscience, targeted simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression in carrying out legitimate activities as journalists,” he added.
The trial was condemned by other human rights groups and many Western governments and prompted the United Nations to question Egypt’s judicial independence.