CAIRO (AP) — Lawyers for three Al-Jazeera English journalists imprisoned in Egypt for over a year appealed the reporters’ convictions in a brief court hearing Thursday, as thawing relations between Egypt and Qatar have raised hope they could be freed.
Egypt’s Court of Cassation began hearing the appeal by Canadian-Egyptian Mohammed Fahmy, Australian journalist Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohammed, all held since December 2013. Their arrests came after the overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member.
The three journalists did not attend the brief hearing that began around 9 a.m. local time (0700 GMT, 2 a.m. EST) in Cairo and lasted only a few minutes. Reporters gathered to report on the hearing were not allowed in for those arguments, but later entered the courtroom.
Defense lawyer Negad Al-Borai told journalists after the hearing that he hoped for a “happy end” to the case, with the court allowing for an appeal.
“The court has the right to release them today,” he said.
The journalists were arrested December 2013. Fahmy and Greste were sentenced to seven years in prison, while Mohammed got 10 years — three more because he was found with a spent bullet casing. Rights groups dismissed the trial as a sham and foreign countries, including the U.S., expressed their concern over the journalists’ detention.
Authorities accused Qatar-based Al-Jazeera of acting as a mouthpiece for the Brotherhood. The station denied the accusations and said the journalists were doing their job.
At trial, prosecutors offered no evidence backing accusations the three falsified footage to foment unrest. Instead, they showed edited news reports by the journalists, including Islamist protests and interviews with politicians. Other footage submitted as evidence had nothing to do with the case, including a report on a veterinary hospital and Greste’s past reports out of Africa.
The Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest appeal tribunal, will review the lower court’s proceedings, not the case itself. It can uphold the previous verdict or order a retrial.