Freed Oz reporter Greste to fight for colleagues still in Cairo jail

  • AFP, Brisbane
  • Updated: Feb 02, 2015 18:58 IST

Australian journalist Peter Greste will keep fighting to free his colleagues still jailed in Egypt, his family said Monday, after he was released following more than 400 days in prison on charges of backing the Muslim Brotherhood.

Greste, an award-winning correspondent for Al-Jazeera English television, flew to Cyprus with brother Michael after his release from Cairo's Tora prison on Sunday, Egyptian officials told AFP.

Juris Greste (L), the father of Australian journalist Peter Greste, Peter's brother Andrew Greste (C) and his mother Lois Greste (R) smile during a press conference. (AFP Photo)

Greste was detained with colleagues Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed in December 2013 for allegedly aiding the blacklisted Brotherhood.

Their arrest sparked worldwide condemnation, with Washington and the United Nations leading calls for their release.
Fahmy's relatives expect him to also be deported under a decree passed by Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi that allows for the transfer of foreigners on trial.

His fiancee, Marwa Omara, told AFP in Cairo: "We are expecting Mohamed to be released in the coming days."
Canada said Greste's release was "positive" and that it remained "very hopeful" that Fahmy would also be freed soon.

'I'm ecstatic'

Greste's family expressed their joy after speaking to Peter on the phone and vowed his colleagues still behind bars would not be forgotten.

"He's not going to forget his two other colleagues," Peter's brother Andrew said after the pair spoke on the telephone. "He wanted me to pass on to everyone that he won't give up the fight... they are completely innocent as well."

Al-Jazeera news channel's Australian journalist Peter Greste (L) and his colleagues, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy (C) and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, listening to the verdict inside the defendants cage during their trial. (AFP File Photo)

Andrew added: "There's no doubt that his excitement is tempered and restrained and will be until those guys are free." The Australian's mother, Lois, told a press conference in their hometown of Brisbane: "I'm ecstatic. I just can't say how happy I am about it."

Greste was resting in Cyprus, and father Juris said it was not clear when he would arrive home. "He is gathering his thoughts for the trip home," said Andrew. "He is safe, healthy, very, very happy to be on his way home."

Andrew expressed relief on Twitter, thanking journalists and others who kept pressure on Egypt. "Without the worldwide support we could not have got through it. @PeterGreste on his way home," he tweeted.

Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy stands behind bars at a court in Cairo. (Reuters File Photo)

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott spoke of his "personal delight and our nation's relief" at Greste's release. He also voiced support for a free media and thanked Sisi. Qatar-based Al-Jazeera also vowed to pursue the campaign to free the other two journalists.

"We will not rest until Baher and Mohamed also regain their freedom," said Mostefa Souag, acting director general of Al-Jazeera Media Network. The family of Baher Mohamed has pinned their hopes on a presidential pardon or his acquittal on appeal. Amnesty International said Greste's release should not overshadow the ongoing imprisonment of Fahmy and Mohamed.

"All three men are facing trumped up charges and were forced to endure a farcical trial marred by irregularities," said Amnesty's Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a media watchdog, welcomed the release and called on Sisi to pardon and free Fahmy and Mohamed "and the other journalists still behind bars for doing their work".

Nightmare for Sisi

The high-profile trial, at which Greste and Fahmy were sentenced to seven years in prison and Mohamed to 10, proved a public relations nightmare for Sisi, who has cracked down on Islamists since toppling president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. The verdict was overturned and a court in January ordered a retrial for the three.

"There is a presidential decision to deport Peter Greste to Australia," an interior ministry official told AFP minutes before Greste flew out from Cairo. Egyptian police arrested the journalists at the peak of a diplomatic row between Cairo and Qatar, which owns Al-Jazeera.

The broadcaster had been critical of the deadly crackdown on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement following the Islamist leader's overthrow. Qatar has since moved to mend ties with Egypt, and Al-Jazeera has closed its Arabic-language Egyptian affiliate which backed the Brotherhood.

The rapprochement reflected growing international acceptance of the crackdown on Egypt's Islamist opposition and militants who have killed scores of police and soldiers since Morsi's overthrow. The crackdown, which has left at least 1,400 people dead, had tested Egypt's ties with the United States, which temporarily froze part of its annual $1.3 billion military aid in 2013.

Greste, who turned 49 in jail, worked for multiple news organisations including Reuters and the BBC before joining Al-Jazeera English. He was the BBC's Kabul correspondent in 1995 and returned there after the US-led invasion in 2001. From 2009, he was based in Nairobi, winning the broadcasting industry's prestigious Peabody Award in 2011.

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