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Australia’s Greste urges help for other jailed reporters

February 19, 2015

Journalists still detained in Egypt should not be forgotten, freed Australian Al-Jazeera reporter Peter Greste said in an address in London on Thursday.

Greste was deported from Egypt this month after over 400 days in jail, accused of supporting the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood in a case that sparked global outcry and embarrassment for Egypt.

His colleagues, Canada’s Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian citizen Baher Mohamed, were freed last week on bail.

“It bothers me a little bit that so much of the attention has been focused on me, Baher and Fahmy,” Greste said after being welcomed with a standing ovation to journalists’ group the Frontline Club.

“This is a much wider case than just the three of us and whatever happens we need to bear that in mind.”

Nine other reporters are detained in Egyptian prisons, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which ranks the country sixth in the world for jailing journalists.

Three of those detained are from the critical news site Rassd and have been jailed since summer 2013, according to the CPJ.

Later that year Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed were accused of spreading false news and aiding the Muslim Brotherhood organisation of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

Their initial trial came against the backdrop of tension between the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Qatar, where Al-Jazeera is based.

Greste appeared tired and emotional as he addressed the crowd and paid tribute to the impact of an international media campaign that had called for his release.

He said he dealt with his imprisonment with meditation, running in the morning and even started a master’s degree in international relations.

“I have seen quite a few people in prison that were broken by prison. I felt I had to make a conscious decision to stay fit, physically fit, psychologically fit,” Greste said.

“The greatest danger is your own mind.”

Greste and Fahmy were originally sentenced to seven years each, while Mohamed was given a ten-year sentence.

Three other foreign reporters were sentenced in absentia, while 12 other co-defendants in the case were given sentences of between seven and 10 years, some in absentia.

Greste said he did not feel traumatised or angry and that he hoped the experience would not affect his future reporting.

The three Al Jazeera journalists were awarded a prestigious Royal Television Society prize for their work on Wednesday.

The trial is not over for Greste and his colleagues, as they have not been cleared of the charges and a retrial is impending, but Greste said it was an occasion to remember the importance of a free media.

“We need to recognise that we are a part of society, we are an essential bit of this thing, we are the fourth state,” Greste said.

“An attack on journalism, an attack on the freedom of speech is an attack on the wider society.”

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