There were 221 journalists held in jails around the world on 1st December 2014, according to the US-based independent Committee to Protect Journalists. Among them was Australian journalist Peter Greste, who was detained in Egypt for 400 days before his release on 1st February this year.
Greste was imprisoned on the 29 December 2013, along with his colleagues Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy. The three were charged on the 23 June 2014 with “distorting the country’s image abroad” and “fabricating news to the Muslim Brotherhood”. The latter charge stemmed from the allegation that the reporters were helping the Muslim Brotherhood, who are blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by the Egyptian government. Greste was sentenced to seven years in prison despite his repeated assertion that he was innocent and that the trial was flawed.
This sparked a long international campaign for the journalists’ release. The trial was called “laughable”; commentators pointed to evidence against the journalists which included seemingly irrelevant things such as a song by the Australian singer Gotye. Greste’s family spoke out against the ruling on the grounds that it was censorship of free speech, the central issue in many cases of journalists being imprisoned because of their work. Tanya Plibersek, the Australian Opposition’s Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, said, “The idea that a journalist would be jailed simply for doing his job… [has]been quite shocking”.
According to the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Greste spoke to her over the telephone about how eager he was to return to his family and “be back on a beach and lying in the sun in Australia”. Still, he spent two days in Cyprus after his release with his brother Mike in order to recover and rest before finally completing his journey home. He was greeted with cheers at Brisbane Airport and the crowd held signs reading “journalism is not a crime”.
Despite Greste’s release, both of his colleagues remain imprisoned in Egypt. On the 1st January their convictions were overturned, yet they are still being detained in order to go through a retrial. Greste’s family has stated that he will not rest until they are also freed because, as Greste himself said, “If it’s right for me to be free, it’s right for everyone else that was imprisoned in our case to be free”. Fahmy, who is Canadian, is also anticipating deportation in the near future. However, things do not look so hopeful for Mohamed who, as an Egyptian national, is not able to be deported. Mohamed has already missed his child being born and his family has stated their belief that he “will not be released” despite the fact that all three journalists were tried together. The retrial has been set to begin on the 12th February and this is seen by many as an opportunity for Egypt to show that their justice system is not dependent on nationality.