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Australian Al-Jazeera reporter says sentence ‘outrageous’

August 29, 2015

Freed Australian journalist Peter Greste on Saturday said the three-year sentences given to him and Al-Jazeera colleagues by an Egyptian court were “outrageous” and vowed to fight on.

Greste, who was deported from Egypt earlier this year, was tried in absentia but Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed were present in court for the verdict.

“It’s just devastating for me,” Greste told Al-Jazeera in an interview shown on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation shortly after the sentencing, adding that his heart went out to his colleagues.

“I can’t begin to tell you just how heavily it weighs on me.”

Greste said he had always suspected there could be convictions for political reasons in the case which has attracted international attention.

But he said this could have been done without additional time served, given the months already spent in prison.

“We did nothing wrong. The prosecution presented no evidence that we did anything wrong and so for us to be convicted as terrorists on no evidence at all is frankly outrageous,” Greste said.

“We have to keep fighting.”

Greste said he believed he was unable to appeal because he could not appear in person in court in Egypt but said he would be speaking with his lawyer about how to proceed.

“We will pursue any other legal avenue we have,” he said.

Greste was detained along with Fahmy and Mohamed in December 2013, before he was deported back to Australia after intense diplomatic pressure.

The three journalists were accused of “spreading false news” while covering demonstrations after the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

They were last year sentenced to between seven and 10 years in jail, but an appeals court in January granted them a retrial, saying the verdict had not been backed by evidence.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Saturday she was “dismayed” by the most recent sentences.

“I am dismayed by the decision today of the Egyptian District Court,” she said in a statement.

“This is a distressing outcome for Mr Greste, his family and supporters.”

Bishop added that she had spoken with Greste and would continue to pursue all diplomatic avenues with her Egyptian counterpart to clear his name.

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