Egypt court again postpones verdict in retrial of Jazeera journalists
CAIRO - An Egyptian court on Sunday postponed for a second time its verdict in the retrial of three Al-Jazeera journalists, rescheduling it for August 29 in a move the defendants called an insult.
The court had already put off its much anticipated verdict last Thursday because the presiding judge Hassan Farid was reportedly ill.
Another judge at Sunday's hearing said the verdict was being delayed again because other defendants in the trial could not be brought to the court room from their cells.
"The accused are not present for security reasons, so the court decided to postpone the verdict to August 29," said judge Ahmed Yousry.
Australian Peter Greste, Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were jailed last year for "spreading false news" that supported the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood during their coverage of the turmoil after the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
Fahmy, Baher and several other defendants in the trial were released on bail at the start of the retrial early this year, but at least three other defendants have been jailed in separate cases.
"Verdict postponed until August 29th. The audacity & continuous disrespect to our rights is unprecedented!" Fahmy tweeted minutes after the judge postponed the verdict.
Defence lawyer Shaaban Said said there was no political reason for postponing the verdict.
"The (presiding) judge is ill and he cannot come. Legally the verdict cannot be delivered by a new judge," he said.
Producer Mohamed said the postponing of the verdict was yet another insult to the three journalists.
"It's really annoying that my life is still on hold... It will be another month of suffering," he told reporters outside the court house.
"I fear a guilty verdict."
The Al-Jazeera case has deeply embarrassed President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has said he wishes the reporters were never put on trial.
A guilty verdict for the journalists may further embarrass the government, as it resumes close ties with Washington after a diplomatic rift in 2013.
On Sunday, US Secretary of State Johan Kerry and his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry launched strategic talks in Cairo to repair ties.
Fahmy and Greste, who has since been deported, received seven-year prison terms in the original trial, while producer Mohamed was jailed for 10 years.
The case further strained Egypt's ties with Western countries which had condemned a deadly crackdown on Morsi's supporters.
An appeals court ordered a retrial, saying the original judgement lacked evidence against the three journalists, who work for the Doha-based network's English channel.
The trial had come against the backdrop of a diplomatic spat between Egypt and Qatar, which supports Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement.
If convicted in the retrial, the journalists can appeal to Egypt's Court of Cassation.
Fahmy has renounced his Egyptian nationality, hoping that he will be deported like Greste.
The three journalists were arrested in December 2013 during the crackdown on Morsi's supporters.
They 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".