After nearly 400 days in prison on politicized charges about the content of his work and aiding a terrorist group, Al Jzaeera journalist Peter Greste was finally released from a Cairo jail and deported from the Egyptian capital to his native country, Australia. He is the first of the three Al Jazeera journalists being released, while Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian national Baher Mohamed continue to languish in jail.
The three journalists had been given jail sentences from seven to ten years on charges provoking an international outcry. The trial following which the three were sent to jail was widely criticized as a farce by legal experts and human rights commentators alike.
Greste and Fahmy had been ‘found guilty’ by the court of aiding a terrorist organization, belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood opposition group, and making false news that damaged Egypt’s international reputation inspite of no evidence that pointed towards the involvement of the three accuses journalists. While Greste and Fahmy were sentenced in June 2014 to seven years in prison, their Egyptian colleague Mohamed was sentenced to 10 years.
One month ago, however, a court ordered their retrial on January 1 without granting them a bail. At that point they had just passed their one-year anniversary in prison, where they’ve been since their arrest in Cairo on December 29, 2013.
The three Al-Jazeera journalists were among at least 16 journalists imprisoned in Egypt, along with at least 16,000 political prisoners including activists, students, unionists, academics and lawyers, although human rights groups warn that figure could be as high as 40,000.
The three have campaigned tirelessly for media freedom during their time in prison, as have their families who have criss-crossed the globe to raise awareness about press freedom, journalism and democracy.
Al-Jazeera insists that all three of their journalist should be exonerated and freed, along with all others who have been tried in absentia.
“We’re pleased for Peter and his family that they are to be reunited,” said Mostefa Souag, acting Director General of Al Jazeera Media Network.
Though ecstatic at the release and subsequent deportation of Greste and the imminent release of Fahmy, they continue to be worried about Mohamed.