Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Peter Greste share a laugh at the National Press Club in March 2015 (photo)
On Saturday Peter Greste and two al-Jazeera colleagues were sentenced to three years in prison by a Cairo court. Greste watched the proceedings from Australia, but Mohamed Fahmy, recently married, and Baher Mohamed, father of three small children, were immediately taken into custody.
They are being jailed for broadcasting “false news”, “supporting” the banned Muslim Brotherhood and operating in Egypt without a licence.
As The Guardian reports, International lawyer Amal Clooney, said after the ruling,
“It sends a message that journalists can be locked up for simply doing their job, for telling the truth and reporting the news. And it sends a dangerous message that there are judges in Egypt who will allow their courts to become instruments of political repression and propaganda.”
(In June 2012, Mohamed Morsi (a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood) won the presidential election with 51.73% of the vote.)
“Australian journalist Peter Greste has urged the international community to step up pressure on the Egyptian government to “undo the injustice”…
Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs put out a press release:
“I am dismayed by the decision today of the Egyptian District Court, which has found Peter Greste guilty of broadcasting offences. This is a distressing outcome for Mr Greste, his family and supporters. I have spoken with Mr Greste today and reaffirmed that I will continue to pursue all diplomatic avenues with my Egyptian counterpart to clear his name. Mr Greste has indicated that he will consult his lawyers regarding all legal options.
This carefully worded release is probably intentionally worded as to not disrupt any plea to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for a pardon. Interestingly many of the Greste videos have been pulled from ABC reports (probably for the same reason).
The Pot calling the Kettle black
The Western “democracies” have criticised Egypt before, but Australia’s egregious laws can sentence journalists and bloggers to 10 years in prison. Canberra’s message to journalists is clear: Don’t cross the line. Don’t expose anything secret that could destabilize the status quo. And it matters not whether it is in the interests of the Australian public or not.
Egypt is just the present expression of these types of laws – and not couched in spin.
Back in March, after Peter Greste returned from 400 days in an Egyptian jail, he spoke at the National Press Club. He first expressed his gratitude to Julie Bishop (who was there) for everything she had done to secure his release, but then went on to criticise the Abbott government for denying journalists access to asylum seekers held in immigration detention centres.
As the SMH reported, Greste said, “The public has a right to know, it’s as simple as that.” And…
“We hired the government, they work for us, not the other way around.”
The government should repeal National Security Legislation Amendment Act (No. 1) 2014.
Unfortunately Australia is unable to put a strong case to Egypt while our laws have the potential to treat journalists with similar contempt.