Nejad al-Borai, the Egyptian lawyer of Al Jazeera English's Egyptian Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, outside the court in downtown Cairo. (Khaled Elfiqi/European Pressphoto Agency)

An appeals court in Cairo on Thursday ordered a retrial for three Al Jazeera English journalists imprisoned on charges of aiding a terrorist group — accusations they strenuously deny.

Egypt’s Court of Cassation issued its ruling Thursday morning in a minutes-long session that was closed to the press. The three defendants — Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy, an Egyptian Canadian — did not attend the hearing.

The judge did not grant bail to the three journalists, who have been incarcerated since their arrest in nighttime raids in December 2013.

“I was hoping they would be released on bail,” Jihan Rashed, Baher Mohamed’s wife, said. “But I don’t feel anything. I’m not sad. I can’t feel optimistic. Life has stopped.”

The employees for the Qatar-based Al Jazeera English network, the sister channel of Al Jazeera Arabic, were convicted by a Cairo criminal court earlier this year. A judge sentenced them to between seven and 10 years for collaborating with the Muslim Brotherhood to threaten the country’s national security.

Family and lawyers for three jailed Al Jazeera TV journalists react to news that the men will remain in jail until their retrial on charges that include spreading lies to help a "terrorist organization." (Reuters)

Rights groups denounced the trial as seriously flawed and politically motivated. Egypt’s government, brought to power by a military coup against the Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, had accused Qatar of backing the Muslim Brotherhood group that supported Morsi’s presidency.

Egyptian officials charged that Al Jazeera worked as a mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, doctoring reports to portray the country as mired in civil war.

The reasons behind the judgment Thursday remained unclear. The Court of Cassation rules only on procedural violations.

The violation ruled on by the appeals court “could be anything from a heavy-handed application of the law, or even the court where the case was heard,” said Mohamed Zarea, head of the Cairo-based Arab Penal Reform Organization.

Egyptian legal experts said a new trial in criminal court could take up to a month to begin. A new law would allow Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi to deport Fahmy and Greste, who are both foreign nationals. But under such a decree, Mohamed’s status would remain unclear.

Sissi has insisted in interviews and statements that he will not intervene in the country’s judiciary, emphasizing the institution’s independence from other branches of government. Since Sissi ousted Morsi, the courts have carried out mass trials and sentenced hundreds to death in single sessions.

In recent weeks, Saudi Arabia, a staunch ally of the Sissi regime, has encouraged Egypt and the Qatari government to reconcile. Meetings between Egyptian and Qatari officials have raised hope among the families of the defendants that their relatives would be soon released.

Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed were sentenced to prison by an Egyptian court on charges of collaborating with terrorists. (Tom LeGro/The Washington Post)

Earlier this month, Al Jazeera suspended broadcasting its Egyptian channel, Al Jazeera Mubasher, in a sign of thawed relations.

Cunningham reported from Baghdad.