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Freed Australian Greste vows to stay a reporter

February 5, 2015

Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste said Thursday he was treated with respect during a 400-day prison ordeal in Egypt and plans to remain a foreign correspondent after an emotional homecoming in Australia.

Greste’s plane landed around 00:30 am (1430 GMT Wednesday) in Brisbane and he held a private reunion with his parents, brothers and other relatives before meeting the press.

He said he was ecstatic to be back after being deported on Sunday from Cairo, where he was held for allegedly aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood.

“I’ve dreamt about this so many times and the reality is nowhere near what I imagined it to be. It’s so, so much better,” said the award-winning journalist after arriving to cheers at his first open press conference since being released.

Greste said his time in jail was “a baptism of fire” and had been tough physically and mentally.

But he and fellow Al-Jazeera television colleagues, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed of Egypt, had been treated well.

“We certainly weren’t abused. We had some — we had access to all of the things that were needed. It was restrictive, I mean, there were things we weren’t comfortable with but then, it’s prison,” he said.

“The fact is I’m in pretty good health. There’s no problems that I have in any sense that I’m aware of anyway.

“We weren’t abused in any way, we were treated with respect and dignity as much as can be expected under the circumstances. So that was fine.”

However, when asked to describe his living space, he replied: “I’d love to. I’m afraid I can’t. There are all sorts of reasons, I’m afraid on this one I can’t tell you more detail.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott hailed Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as “a friend of decency” on Thursday following Greste’s return home.

Abbott said he had spoken with the president to thank him for his efforts in releasing the journalist, suggesting that bilateral relations were unharmed.

“He has been very sympathetic and understanding from the word go,” he told reporters.

The former army chief has been widely criticised by human rights groups for cracking down on government opponents, with hundreds of Islamist supporters of his ousted predecessor Mohamed Morsi sentenced to death after often speedy trials.

But Abbott said: “President al-Sisi is a friend of decency. He is a man of humanity and compassion and I have to say that I think he is someone who Australia can continue to work with on a whole range of issues.”

– No animosity to Egypt –

Greste and his colleagues were arrested at the height of a diplomatic row between Egypt and Qatar, which owns Al-Jazeera.

The broadcaster had criticised the deadly crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement following the Islamist leader’s overthrow.

Qatar has since moved to repair ties with Egypt, and Al-Jazeera has closed its Arabic-language Egyptian affiliate which backed the Brotherhood.

Greste said that despite his ordeal he planned to remain a journalist.

“I don’t want to give this up, my job up. I’m a correspondent, it’s what I do,” he said, adding that he was now considering his options.

While Greste has been freed, his two colleagues remain behind bars, although Fahmy’s family said Tuesday he had renounced his Egyptian citizenship, hoping to pave the way for his release.

The Australian said the men had grown close during their time together and it was tough to leave them behind.

“I trust that they will follow in due course. It’s going to take time, it’s going to take some further efforts but we’ll see them out,” said Greste, adding that he felt no animosity towards Egypt.

“I think this has generated a lot of good will and I think that… I’d like to see that continue.

“Egypt is going through a very difficult time at the moment. Politically, economically, socially and so on. I understand that very, very well. I wish the very best for Egypt and the Egyptian people in particular.”

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