An Egyptian court on Thursday ordered the release of Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed on bail.
They are likely to be freed within 48 hours for the first time in 14 months, though it remains unclear whether they will be able to leave the country. Both will face a retrial on February 23. A spokesperson for the network called their conditional release "a small step in the right direction."
Bail "allows Baher and Mohamed to spend time with their families after 411 days apart," the spokesperson said.
Fahmy and Baher have been in prison in Cairo since December 2013 after being convicted of aiding the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, spreading false news, and endangering Egypt's national security, charges which stemmed from their coverage of the Arab Spring uprising that began in 2011. A third jailed Al Jazeera journalist, Peter Greste, was deported to his home country of Australia on February 1 after a hearing at the Court of Cassation earlier this year overturned previous verdicts in the case.
"I don’t understand how a defendant in the same case with the same evidence... is on the beach in Australia," Fahmy told the court Thursday as he unfurled an Egyptian flag.
All three initially received sentences between seven and 10 years. They have denied the charges and said they were imprisoned for doing their jobs, which prompted a show of solidarity around the world carrying the message, "Journalism is not a crime."
The Al Jazeera spokesperson added on Thursday, "The focus... is still on the court reaching the correct verdict at the next hearing by dismissing this absurd case and releasing both these fine journalists unconditionally."
Fahmy renounced his Egyptian citizenship last week in a bid to secure his release and deportation to Canada, where he is also a citizen. He is reportedly considered a flight risk.
The journalists' imprisonment in 2013 caused an international outcry against Egypt's crackdown on dissent and free speech in the wake of the Arab Spring. But while their release has given hope to human rights watchdogs, at least 16,000 political activists, journalists, and photographers still remain in prison in Egypt under similar charges.