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Egypt deports jailed Australian reporter Greste

February 1, 2015

Egypt deported Al-Jazeera reporter Peter Greste to his native Australia on Sunday after holding him for more than 400 days despite global condemnation.

Greste departed on a flight to Larnaca, Cyprus soon after his release from Cairo’s Tora prison, interior ministry and airport officials told AFP.

The Al-Jazeera English reporter was detained along with two colleagues, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and an Egyptian producer, Baher Mohamed, in December 2013 and charged with aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood movement.

The Qatar-based channel welcomed Egypt’s decision and expressed hope that its other two journalists would be released.

“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 for the pan-Arab television network.

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

Fahmy’s relatives also expect him to be deported under a decree passed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi that allows for the transfer of foreigners on trial. But it was not immediately clear when he would be released.

The arrest of the three reporters set off a global outcry, with Washington and the United Nations leading calls for their release.

Australia and Canada have piled pressure on Egypt to release the two and Sisi had repeatedly said he regretted they had not been deported soon after their arrest.

Their high-profile trial, in 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.

– Qatar, Egypt mend ties –

The verdict was overturned and a court in January ordered a retrial for the three journalists.

“There is a presidential decision to deport Peter Greste to Australia,” an interior ministry official told AFP on Sunday, minutes before Greste departed from Cairo airport.

Greste and Fahmy are eligible for deportation under a recent law that stipulates their trial in their home countries.

There is no prospect that Greste or Fahmy would face trials in their home countries and Sisi’s decree appears to have been formulated in a way that allows Egypt’s authorities to save face.

Rights group Amnesty International said Greste’s release should not overshadow the ongoing imprisonment of Fahmy and Mohamed.

The two “must not be forgotten as their colleague Peter Greste is deported from Egypt,” the group said in a statement.

Police had 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 shut down its Arabic-language Egyptian affiliate channel, which supported the Brotherhood.

The rapprochement reflected growing international acceptance of the crackdown on Egypt’s Islamist opposition and militants who have killed scores of policemen 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.

The Brotherhood, once Egypt’s largest political movement and the winner of several elections, denies it resorts to violence.

Greste, who turned 49 in jail, worked for several news organisations including Reuters and the BBC before joining Al-Jazeera’s English news channel.

He was the BBC’s Kabul correspondent in 1995, where he watched the Taliban emerge, and he returned after the US-led invasion in 2001.

Since 2009, he was based in Nairobi from where he covered the Horn of Africa, winning the broadcasting industry’s prestigious Peabody Award in 2011.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.