Egyptian authorities have put off the arrest of three journalists sentenced to one year's imprisonment for libel, through a legal manoeuvre that gives them four months at liberty.
The sentences on Sunday provoked widespread domestic and international criticism of the government and of President Husni Mubarak, who promised in February 2004 to work to abolish custodial sentences for publishing offences.
Hesham Kassem, chief executive of Al Masry Al Youm newspaper, told reporters that lawyers for the journalists union had filed an objection to the sentences on the grounds that the three Al Masry Al Youm journalists were tried in their absence.
Public prosecutor Maher Abdel Wahed instructed his office to accept the objection and to give the journalists documents saying they would not be arrested until the courts deal with the objection, the state news agency MENA reported.
Court sets date
A Cairo court set on 23 August as the date for hearing the objection. Kassem said that a retrial was guaranteed and this meant that the original sentences were dropped.
The journalists, Alaa el-Ghatrifi, Youssef al-Oumi and Abdel-Nasser el-Zuheiri, were convicted of libelling Housing Minister Mohamed Ibrahim Soleiman last year by writing that police had searched his office and he had been suspended.
The Paris-based group Reporters without Borders asked the court president to quash the sentences, saying they violated the Egyptian constitution and international standards.
Journalists staged protests against the sentences at their union building.
The four-month period gives parliament time to pass a new press law, including Mubarak's proposals, and means that any retrial would not take place before the same judge, Kassem said.