Sunday 18 February 2018

Egypt frees Australian journalist after 400-day ordeal

Al-Jazeera English correspondent Peter Greste, pictured in court along with several other defendants during their trial on terror charges, in Cairo, Egypt in March 2014. A senior Egyptian prison official and the country's official news agency say Greste has been freed from prison and is on his way to Cairo airport to leave the country (AP Photo/Heba Elkholy, El Shorouk)
Al-Jazeera English correspondent Peter Greste, pictured in court along with several other defendants during their trial on terror charges, in Cairo, Egypt in March 2014. A senior Egyptian prison official and the country's official news agency say Greste has been freed from prison and is on his way to Cairo airport to leave the country (AP Photo/Heba Elkholy, El Shorouk)
Al-Jazeera's award-winning Australian correspondent Peter Greste, appears in a defendants' cage in a courthouse near Tora prison in Cairo, Egypt. A senior Egyptian prison official and the country's official news agency say Greste has been freed from prison and is on his way to Cairo airport to leave the country (AP Photo/Hamada Elrasam)
Al Jazeera journalists (L-R) Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed stand behind bars at a court in Cairo in this May 15, 2014 photo. Greste was released from a Cairo jail after 400 days in prison on charges that included aiding a terrorist group (REUTERS/Stringer)

Louisa Loveluck

Peter Greste, the Australian Al Jazeera journalist imprisoned in Egypt, was on his way back home last night after the country's military government finally ended his 400-day jail ordeal.

Mr Greste, who previously worked for the BBC, left Cairo's notorious Tora prison on what the Egyptian authorities officially described as a "deportation" order to Australia.

"I'm overjoyed," said his brother, Andrew. "It will take a while to sink in."

Security officials said that Mr Greste's colleague Mohamed Fahmy would be deported to Canada, where he holds citizenship, within days.

There was no word on the fate of the Egyptian freelance producer Baher Mohamed, the last member of the "Al Jazeera Three", whose incarceration has become a cause celebre.

All three men maintained the charges were baseless, and that they had been used as pawns in a wider political game with Qatar, a staunch backer of the Muslim Brotherhood, and owner of the Al Jazeera network.

The three journalists were sentenced to between seven and 10 years in prison last June on charges of aiding Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which won democratic elections in 2012 but was then overthrown by the military and banned as a "terrorist organisation".

They were also accused of conspiring to broadcast "false news" from Egypt.

The network's often partisan coverage, particularly that of its Egyptian affiliate station, has been a thorn in the side of Egypt's military ruler, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, fuelling a spat between Egypt and Qatar as domestic critics have been arrested in their thousands. But relations started to thaw in December.

"We're pleased for Peter and his family that they are to be reunited," Mostefa Souag, acting director general of Al Jazeera Media Network, said in a statement yesterday.

"We will not rest until Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy also regain their freedom," he said.

Egyptian officials insisted last night that Mr Greste had not officially been released, but was being deported to Australia to complete his sentence.

However, there is no prospect that he will serve a jail sentence or face trial once home.

The Al Jazeera case has provided Mr Sisi with a serious diplomatic headache.

In November, he sought to ease international pressure over the case with a decree allowing the deportation of foreign detainees.

Egypt's regime has led a crackdown against opponents since it came to power in a 2013 coup, killing hundreds and jailing thousands. The Al Jazeera journalists were among 12 members of the profession to be jailed in Egypt last year.

Mr Mohamed's family spoke yesterday of their fears international attention would ebb from his case once Mr Greste and Mr Fahmy were deported. "I hope they support us and don't leave Baher behind," said Mr Mohamed's brother, Assem.

James Harding, the director of BBC news and current affairs, said: "All journalists will welcome the news that Peter Greste has been released. He was jailed for nothing more than doing his job. All our thoughts must now be with his two colleagues." (©Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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