An Egyptian court postponed Thursday its verdict in the retrial of three Al-Jazeera journalists accused of supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood, in a case that has sparked a global outcry.
Australian Peter Greste, Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were jailed last year for "spreading false news" during their coverage of the turmoil after the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
Greste, who has since been deported, and Fahmy received seven years in the initial trial, while Mohamed was jailed for 10 years.
An appeals court ordered a retrial, saying the verdict lacked evidence against the three journalists working for the Doha-based network's English channel.
On Thursday the court did not hold its much-anticipated session, with a defence lawyer saying he had been told it was postponed.
The ruling is now expected on August 2, state news agency MENA reported. Earlier some relatives and lawyers said it was set for August 8.
"We are outraged that the verdict has been adjourned as today was meant to be the final court hearing for our colleagues," Al-Jazeera said in a statement.
"Journalism is not a crime."
Thursday's session had been keenly awaited by rights groups and families of the defendants.
"The entire world has its eyes turned on Egypt because this is a decisive trial for media freedom," the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said Wednesday.
-'Difficult week' ahead-
Mohamed said the postponing of the verdict was "very strange".
"It's disturbing that the trial was postponed without informing our lawyers," he told AFP outside the court.
"I don't want to predict anything about the verdict. Anything could happen."
An angry Fahmy said the delay was an insult to the defendants and their families.
"It was a very difficult week waiting for the verdict. I brought a bag with blue clothes and toothbrush, and now it's a more difficult week" ahead, he said.
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"We have been in a nightmare for 19 months... I see the postponement as another insult to us, our families, our lawyers because no one informed us officially."
If convicted, the journalists can appeal to Egypt's Court of Cassation, which can uphold or cancel the ruling. If it cancels the verdict it will examine the case itself.
Greste has already been deported under a law allowing the transfer of foreigners on trial to their home countries but he is being retried in absentia.
- 'Fight for press freedoms' -
Fahmy and Mohamed were freed on bail earlier this year, having spent more than 400 days in detention.
Fahmy has renounced his Egyptian nationality, hoping that he too would be deported like Greste.
"If this trial is fair, me and my colleagues have to be acquitted," Fahmy told AFP on Wednesday, adding that a court committee had acknowledged that there had been "no fabrication" in their coverage.
The court had also been due to give its ruling Thursday on five Egyptian co-defendants sentenced previously to up to 10 years for being members of the Brotherhood and for "damaging the public image of Egypt".
The three journalists were arrested in December 2013 during a crackdown on supporters of Morsi, who was ousted by then army chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after mass street protests against his year of divisive rule.
The initial trial came against the backdrop of strained ties between Egypt and Qatar, which supported Morsi's government.
The journalists were also accused of working without valid media accreditation.
Fahmy has since lashed out at Al-Jazeera, accusing it of negligence and backing the Brotherhood. He has sued the network for $100 million.
Al-Jazeera has repeatedly denounced the trials as "political".
The network's Arabic-language channel had condemned Morsi's removal and the subsequent police crackdown that left hundreds of people dead and thousands jailed.
Rights groups say journalists in Egypt are facing unprecedented threats from the regime installed by Sisi.
The Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 18 journalists are locked up in Egypt, the most since it began keeping records in 1990.
"I will continue the fight for press freedoms until the end. This is not just about the three of us. It's about journalists in the whole world," said Mohamed.