CAIRO — An Egyptian court on Sunday again postponed announcing a verdict in the retrial of three Al-Jazeera English journalists, extending the long-running trial criticized worldwide by press freedom advocates and human rights activists.
The case against Canadian national Mohammed Fahmy, Australian journalist Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed embroiled their journalism into the wider conflict between Egypt and Qatar following the 2013 military ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
Judge Hassan Farid, who oversaw the case against the three, did not attend Sunday's hearing. Another judge, Essam Aboul Ella, announced the case had been postponed.
"It's more suffering for us, more waiting," Mohammed said after the postponement. "The ordeal continues and I have no idea what's going on."
Fahmy added: "It's crippling our lives."
Al-Jazeera English's acting managing director, Giles Trendle, also denounced the delay in an interview with the network.
"We've found that the court ... has been almost Kafka-esque in some of the ludicrous, groundless charges, in some of the strange decisions — even in the delays that you're seeing," Trendle said.
The case began in December 2013, when Egyptian security forces raided the upscale hotel suite used by Al-Jazeera at the time to report from Egypt. Authorities arrested Fahmy, Greste and Mohammed, later charging them with allegedly being part of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which authorities have declared a terrorist organization, and airing falsified footage intended to damage national security.
Since Morsi's ouster, Egypt has cracked down heavily on his supporters, and the journalists were accused of being mouthpieces for the Brotherhood. Al-Jazeera and the journalists have denied the allegations, saying they were simply reporting the news. However, Doha has been a strong supporter of the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups in the greater Mideast.
At trial, prosecutors used news clips about an animal hospital with donkeys and horses, and another about Christian life in Egypt, as evidence they broke the law. Defense lawyers — and even the judge — dismissed the videos as irrelevant. Nonetheless, the three men were convicted on June 23, 2014, with Greste and Fahmy sentenced to seven years in prison and Mohammed to 10 years.
The verdict brought a landslide of international condemnation and calls for newly elected President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who as military chief led the overthrow of Morsi, to intervene. Egypt's Court of Cassation, the country's highest appeals court, later ordered their retrial, saying the initial proceedings were marred by violations of the defendants' rights.
Egypt deported Greste in February, though he remains charged in the case. Fahmy and Mohammed were later released on bail.
"The three of us may not physically be in prison, but until we are completely exonerated of all the charges, neither are we truly free," Greste said in a statement Sunday.
Fahmy was asked to give up his Egyptian nationality by Egyptian officials in order to qualify for deportation. It's not clear why he was deported, though Fahmy said he thinks Canada could have pressed Cairo harder on the matter.
Angered by Al-Jazeera handling of the case, Fahmy has filed a lawsuit in Canada seeking $100 million from the broadcaster, saying that it put the story ahead of employee safety and used its Arabic-language channels to advocate for the Brotherhood. Al-Jazeera has said Fahmy should seek compensation from Egypt.
Associated Press writers Kristen Gelineau in Sydney and Merrit Kennedy contributed to this report.