‘Relief’ as Egypt releases reporter

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Published: Monday 2nd February 2015 by The News Editor

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Freed Al Jazeera and ex-BBC journalist Peter Greste “won’t rest” until his colleagues are released, his family has said.

Mr Greste’s deportation from Egypt after 400 days in prison has been greeted as a “welcome relief” by human rights campaigners.

The Australian left on an EgyptAir flight to Larnaca, Cyprus, after the president approved his deportation in a case that has drawn international condemnation.

Mr Greste, 49, was arrested in December 2013 and imprisoned last June on charges that included spreading false news. He was jailed with two other al-Jazeera journalists – Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed.

Speaking at a press conference in Brisbane, his brother Andrew told reporters: “He is very happy to be on his way home.

“On a sombre note, I know Peter wanted me to make this point – Peter’s two other colleagues are still there. They also deserve to be freed. Peter won’t rest until they are released from prison.”

His family, who managed to speak to him on the phone, said he was in “great spirits” and would return to Australia “when he is ready”.

Andrew Greste also thanked everyone who had tweeted to back the campaign, saying: “Without the worldwide support we could not have got through it.”

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director, described Mr Greste’s deportation as “a welcome relief but nothing can make up for his ordeal”.

BBC News and Current Affairs director James Harding said “he was jailed for nothing more than doing his job, all our thoughts must now be with his two colleagues in the hope that they too will shortly be freed”.

Mr Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mr Fahmy and Egyptian Mr Mohamed were sentenced to at least seven years in prison on terrorism-related charges last year in a trial described as a sham by rights groups. There was no immediate word on the other two journalists.

But Mr Greste was released following a presidential “approval”, officials said, following a new deportation law passed last year.

Mr Greste, and Mr Fahmy had sought deportation under new Egyptian legislation which allows foreign nationals to be transferred to their home countries to face trial or serve their sentences in cases of the “highest interest of the state”.

The convictions of all three men were overturned by the Court of Cassation on January 1 on procedural grounds, but they were kept in detention pending a retrial.

Acting Al-Jazeera director general Mostefa Souag said the Qatar-based network “will not rest until Baher and Mohamed also regain their freedom”.

The sentiment was echoed by Ms Sahraoui, who added: “It is vital that in the celebratory fanfare surrounding his deportation the world does not forget the continuing ordeal of Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy, who remain behind bars at Tora prison in Cairo.”

The three were arrested over their coverage of the violent crackdown on Islamist protests following the military overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi in 2013. Egyptian authorities accused them of providing a platform for Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, now declared a terrorist organisation.

The three were also convicted for spreading false information, faking reports to show that the country was on the verge of civil war, and for aiding the Brotherhood’s goal of portraying Egypt as a failed state. Mr Mohamed received an additional three years for his possession of a spent bullet.

Three other foreign reporters received a 10-year sentence in absentia. Twelve other co-defendants were sentenced to between seven and 10 years, some of them in absentia.

According to a law passed late last year, Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has the power to deport foreign defendants or convicts if it is considered to be in the interest of national security. The law was seen as providing a potential legal instrument with which to free the journalists.

Mr Greste had been in Egypt for only weeks, working on a short relief for his colleagues, when he was detained.

The case prompted a storm of international criticism and a protest campaign using the hashtag # FreeAJStaff went global. It featured fellow journalists who posed for photographs with their mouths covered as a sign of support.

UK journalist and Al-Jazeera English correspondent Sue Turton, who was among those who was sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Egyptian court for “falsifying news”, aired her ongoing frustrations on Twitter.

She wrote: “Can’t believe Peter is free. But it’s all tinged with a desperate need to get Baher and Mohamed out too. Leave no one behind #FreeAJStaff

“Dear President Sisi, you released Peter after 400 days but realise we won’t shut up till Mohamed & Baher are out & all cleared #FreeAJStaff”

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond welcomed Mr Greste’s release but said he was “concerned” that Mr Fahmy and Mr Mohamed were still in jail.

In a statement he said: “It also appears that charges remain against the other journalists convicted in absentia, including British nationals Dominic Kane and Sue Turton. I call on the Egyptian authorities to review their sentences as a matter of urgency.

“We continue to believe that stability and prosperity in Egypt is dependent on open and inclusive politics and on full respect for the rights contained in the Egyptian constitution. I call on the Egyptian government to take further action to ensure the release of other journalists from prison, to release political detainees and to relax restrictions on civil society”.

Published: Monday 2nd February 2015 by The News Editor

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