Jailed Al Jazeera journalists Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed have been freed after receiving pardons from Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.
Egyptian-Canadian Mohammed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were among 100 prisoners whose release was ordered.
Egypt’s state media said a third person from the case was also pardoned. It is not clear if this is the Australian Peter Greste, who was deported in February.
They were sentenced to three years in prison last month after a retrial.
Prosecutors accused them of collaborating with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood after the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi by the military in 2013.
The journalists denied the allegation and said they were simply reporting the news. Legal experts said the charges were unfounded and politically motivated.
A statement from President Abdul Fatah al-Sisi’s office issued on September 23 said Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were named on a decree pardoning 100 young people “who had received final court sentences, having been convicted on the grounds of violating the anti-protest law and assaulting police forces”.
“Other prisoners were pardoned due to their health conditions and on humanitarian grounds,” the statement added.
Also named were the prominent activists Yara Sallam and Sanaa Seif, who were jailed in 2014 for taking part in an “illegal protest”.
After the pardons were first reported, a tweet from Mohammed Fahmy’s account said: “Thank you to all the supporters sending us the news, we have heard and are very happy. AJ Staff is Free!”
Al Jazeera said in a report on its website that it “continues to demand all charges and sentences against its journalists are dropped”, noting that Peter Greste and six other employees had been convicted in absentia.
The pardons were issued by President Abdul Fatah al-Sisi ahead of the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha and a day before he travels to New York to address the UN General Assembly.
The president had said he would be willing to pardon the Al Jazeera journalists once the judicial process had ended.
Mohammed Fahmy, who renounced his Egyptian citizenship to qualify for deportation in February, was expected to leave for Canada following his release.
Egyptian pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdel Fattah has been jailed for five years for breaking a protest law and assaulting a policeman.
The blogger was previously given a 15-year jail term, and was freed on bail last year.
Alaa Abdel Fattah gained fame during the 2011 uprising as a campaigner against military trials for civilians.
Al-Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed also appeared in the same court on February 23 at the start of their retrial.
The men were freed on bail earlier this month after more than a year behind bars. They are next due in court on March 8.
The journalists are accused of spreading false information and of helping the banned Muslim Brotherhood organization.
Australian Peter Greste, the third journalist in the case, was freed on February 1 and deported to Australia.
Alaa Abdel Fattah was charged under laws that prohibit protests without prior government permission.
The activist was accused of organizing an illegal protest in 2013, and of assaulting a policeman.
Rights groups say the charges are politically motivated and form part of a broader crackdown on dissent under President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, a former army chief.
Other defendants on trial with Alaa Abdel Fattah received sentences ranging from 3 to 5 years.
There was uproar in the courtroom after the verdicts, with supporters of the defendants calling for an end to military rule in Egypt.
Defense lawyers said they would appeal against the ruling.
Rights groups have also criticized the case against the al-Jazeera journalists, describing it as an assault on press freedom.
At their original trial, Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy were sentenced to seven years in prison. Baher Mohamed received an additional three-year sentence on a separate charge involving possession of weapons.
The defendants denied the charges, describing their trial as a sham.
Their convictions were overturned on January 1, when the courts ordered a retrial. Exactly one month later, Peter Greste was released and deported to Australia.
Several students have also been held in the same case. The students deny working for al-Jazeera but it is thought that material filmed on their phones was used by the network.
Cairo’s Court of Cassation has set the appeals hearing of three jailed al-Jazeera journalists for January 1, 2015, says Mohamed Fahmy’s family.
Al-Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste were jailed for seven years on June 23, 2014.
They were accused of spreading false news and supporting the Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood.
The court will either uphold the verdict or call for a retrial.
It is thought the Court of Cassation will take one or two sessions to deliver its ruling.
Al-Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed were sentenced to seven years in jail in Egypt
If the court rejects the sentences, the case will return to the criminal court for a retrial.
Should it uphold the verdict, the only other alternative is for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to offer a pardon.
Egyptian-Canadian bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, Australian correspondent Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed were arrested on December 29, 2013.
At the sentencing in June 2014, Mohamed Fahmy received a further three years on charges of possessing “unlicensed ammunition”.
Eleven other defendants, including three foreign journalists, tried in absentia at the same time received 10-year sentences.
The sentencing of the three sparked an international outcry and raised concerns over growing media restrictions in Egypt.
Journalists around the world held silent protests against their imprisonment.
Qatar-base al-Jazeera was banned from operating inside Egypt after the authorities accused it of broadcasting reports sympathetic to former President Mohamed Morsi and the now banned Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Jazeera has consistently denied the allegations.
However, Qatar has supported the Brotherhood and is unpopular with Egypt’s government.