Australian journalist Peter Greste, 49, is reported to have rattled the cage holding him as an Egyptian court found the Sydney-born news correspondent guilty of “spreading false news” and supporting blacklisted Islamic organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood. Greste and his Al Jazeera colleague, bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, were sentenced to seven years in prison. Producer Baher Mohamed and three other journalists who were tried in absentia were sentenced to 10 years.
Greste and his Al Jazeera colleagues, who had been seen viewing proceedings from within cages in a highly contentious trial that has since triggered outrage from human rights groups and press freedom advocates, had been in detention since their arrest in December last year on charges of conspiring to falsify news to defame Egypt.
Earlier this week, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he appealed on Greste’s behalf to new Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
“I congratulated him on the work that the new government of Egypt had done to crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood, which is, if you like, the spiritual author and father of some of these even more radical groups,” Mr Abbott said. “But I did make the point that Peter Greste was an Australian journalist and I assured him, as a former journalist myself, that Peter Greste would have been reporting the Muslim Brotherhood, not supporting the Muslim Brotherhood because that’s what Australian journalists do.”
Greste, who has maintained complete innocence since his arrest, told the judge that evidence against him had been falsified and requested an acquittal. “Prosecutors did not present a single piece of evidence – there wasn’t a single piece of evidence in court,” he said earlier this month. “It was falsified, there weren’t any facts that we got wrong. There was no story that we manipulated.”
The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) described the verdict as “farcical”. “The verdict of the court, despite the lack of evidence and bizarre court proceedings over more than a dozen hearings, is an appalling attack on press freedom and carries an implicit threat to all media working in Egypt,” a statement read. “The court proceedings have been farcical from the outset and there has not been a shred of evidence presented by the prosecution that in any way implicates the journalists in the charges of defaming Egypt and having ties to the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood.”
The trial marks the first time in Egyptian history a court has prosecuted journalists on charges relating to terrorism.
Peter Gretse is a Peadbody-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the BBC, Reuters, CNN and Al Jazeera.
Photo by KHALED DESOUKI for AFP