The Sunday Mail (Queensland)
Egypt sends journos to jail
SYDNEY: Freed Australian journalist Peter Greste last night said the three-year sentences handed to him and Al Jazeera colleagues by an Egyptian court were “outrageous” and vowed to fight on.
Greste, Canadian national Mohammed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed received the jail terms last night in a retrial of accusations they were “spreading false news” while covering demonstrations after the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
The three were accused of having supported Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which authorities have declared a terrorist organisation, in their coverage.
Greste, who will avoid imprisonment after being deported from Egypt earlier this year, was tried in absentia but his colleagues were present in court for the verdict.
“It’s just devastating for me,” Greste told Al Jazeera shortly after the sentencing, adding that his heart went out to his colleagues.
“I can’t begin to tell you just how heavily it weighs on me.”
Greste said he had always suspected there could be convictions for political reasons in the case which has attracted international attention.
But he said this could have been done without additional time served, given the months already spent in prison.
The trio were last year sentenced to between seven and 10 years in jail, but an appeals court in January granted them a retrial, saying the verdict had not been backed by evidence.
“We did nothing wrong. The prosecution presented no evidence that we did anything wrong and so for us to be convicted as terrorists on no evidence at all is frankly outrageous,” Greste said. “We have to keep fighting.” Greste said he believed he was unable to appeal because he could not appear in person in court in Egypt but said he would be speaking with his lawyer about how to proceed.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said last night she was “dismayed” by the most recent sentences.
“This is a distressing outcome for Mr Greste, his family and supporters,” she said.
Ms Bishop said she had spoken with Greste and would continue pursuing diplomatic avenues with her Egyptian counterpart to clear his name.
Al Jazeera condemned the verdicts as a “deliberate attack on press freedom” and “a dark day for the Egyptian judiciary”.
The Qatar-based broadcaster said it would not rest until its staff are freed.