An Egyptian court has ordered the release of two jailed Al-Jazeera journalists pending retrial, after they spent more than 400 days in prison in a case that sparked worldwide outrage.
Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed are colleagues of Australian Peter Greste, who was deported home last month.
Fahmy, who is Canadian and whose family hoped he would also be deported, must pay 250,000 Egyptian pounds ($A42,810) bail.
Mohamed, an Egyptian, was freed without having to pay bail.
They appear in court again on February 23.
The three journalists were accused of supporting the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood and originally jailed for between seven and 10 years each.
Greste congratulated his two colleagues after their release was announced on Thursday.
‘This is a huge step forward. Not time to declare it over, but at least you get to go home!’ the Australian wrote on Twitter.
A message posted on Mohamed’s Twitter feed simply said: ‘I AM FREE’.
Heather Allan, head of newsgathering at Al-Jazeera English, said: ‘We are very grateful. This is a great, great day for us and we just hope that … the whole thing is thrown out.’
The case has been a major source of embarrassment for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as he seeks to shore up international support following a widely condemned crackdown on the opposition.
Fahmy had renounced his Egyptian citizenship to benefit from a law that allows the deportation of foreign defendants and which led to Greste’s release.
On Thursday’s first session of their retrial, Fahmy was allowed out of the caged dock to address the judge.
‘I didn’t ask to drop my (Egyptian) nationality,’ he said.
‘A security official visited me and asked I drop my citizenship because the state wanted to get this case done with, it had become a nightmare,’ Fahmy said before pulling out a large Egyptian flag.
Greste was on the judge’s roll call of defendants at the start of the trial.
‘He’s not here sir,’ responded a police officer when the judge called out his name.
The three journalists had spent more than a year in jail before an appeals court ordered a retrial, ruling in January that the lower court ‘lacked evidence to support its ruling’ in the original verdict.
The three Qatar-based Al-Jazeera journalists were arrested in December 2013 and charged with spreading false news about Egypt and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.
Their arrests and continued detentions sparked widespread condemnation and calls for their release led by Washington and the United Nations.
The journalists’ initial trial came against the backdrop of strained ties between Egypt and Qatar, which supported ousted president Mohamed Morsi.
The Islamist leader was toppled by then army chief Sisi in July 2013, before Sisi was himself elected president.
Sisi passed a law by decree last year allowing foreigners to be deported to their home countries to stand trial or serve out their sentences.
While Fahmy may still be deported, an acquittal is the only hope for Mohamed as he has no other nationality.
Sisi’s office has said the president will not consider a pardon before the courts have finished their work.