CAIRO: Three journalists on trial in an Egyptian court on terrorism-related charges were awaiting its verdict on Friday, hopeful that they will be acquitted after lengthy proceedings criticized worldwide by press freedom and human rights advocates.
Canadian national Mohammed Fahmy, who was Al-Jazeera's acting Cairo bureau chief, said he was particularly hopeful because senior Egyptian officials had agreed to meet his lawyer Amal Clooney, arriving to represent him in Cairo for the first time in Saturday's proceedings.
"I'm cautiously optimistic. The fact that the government has been responsive to Amal's requests is a very positive sign," he said. "The presidency has approved a meeting with her and so has the foreign ministry and (Justice Minister Ahmed) el-Zind."
Australian journalist Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed also await the verdict. The three were arrested in December 2013 when Egyptian security forces raided the upscale hotel suite used by the broadcaster at the time to report from Egypt.
Authorities later charged them with supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group of President Mohammed Morsi who was overthrown by the army that year amid massive street protests against him. Authorities see the group as a terrorist organization. The journalists are also accused of airing falsified footage intended to damage national security.
The three were later sentenced to up to 10 years in prison each, before Egypt's highest court ordered a retrial. Greste was released and deported in February, while Fahmy and Mohammed were released on bail days later but remain in Egypt, forbidden to leave.
In a statement, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders called for the three to be acquitted.
"The trial of Al-Jazeera's journalists, which also seems to be a political trial of Al-Jazeera itself, is symptomatic of the state of freedom of information today in Egypt," Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said in a statement. "We urge the Egyptian authorities to terminate the trial by dismissing all charges against the journalists. This judicial sham must end with everyone being acquitted."
Mohammed said he had done nothing wrong in his job as a journalist, and deserved the charges dismissed. He said he was putting the case out of his mind as he celebrated the birthday of his son, born while he was in prison.
"I wasn't there last year, so this year is great. Thank God I'm with my family," he said.