Australia will continue to pressure Egypt to free journalist Peter Greste, as his shell-shocked family consider an appeal that could take up to two years.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he’s bewildered by an Egyptian court’s decision to jail the Australian journalist for seven years, and has vowed to continue fighting for his freedom.
But he says megaphone diplomacy won’t help Greste and the government will instead talk “calmly, patiently and reasonably” with the new Egyptian government.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was more forthright, saying Australia would seek the direct intervention of the country’s new President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
She said his government had a chance to prove Egypt was on the path to democracy in the wake of the 2013 coup that ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
“We will be appealing to the new government to call this verdict for what it is and intervene,” she told the ABC, adding she was appalled by the severity of the sentence.
But Ms Bishop said the advice was that no appeal for clemency or a presidential pardon could occur until all legal proceedings had concluded, including any appeal the family might lodge.
Greste, and his Al Jazeera colleagues Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were found guilty on Monday of supporting Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, and of reporting false news in the wake of the coup.
The verdict and seven and 10-year jail terms handed to the men have sparked international condemnation and pressure on the new government, including from the United States, for the men to be released.
US Secretary of State John Kerry called the case “chilling and draconian”, while UN human rights chief Navi Pillay says it’s clear the real target in Egypt is freedom of expression.
As the Australian government seeks direct talks with al-Sisi, it’s hauling in Egypt’s deputy ambassador in Canberra, after it was revealed the ambassador himself is in Cairo.
Peter Greste’s elderly parents Lois and Juris are still struggling to come to terms with their son’s fate, after waging a very public campaign for his freedom since his arrest in December.
His brother Mike, who was in the Cairo court for Monday’s verdict, said the family was deeply distressed and was now taking diplomatic and legal advice about what to do next.
He said an appeal was among the primary considerations, but knowing how to fight the case through legal channels felt impossible when the evidence presented against his brother was non-existent and the trial itself farcical.
“We’re just so confused about the decision. It’s like boxing at shadows,” he told the BBC.
“Obviously it’s turned into a political case. It’s very difficult to target the motivation or the reasons behind the arrest and the whole trial process.”
But he said his brother and the family would not give up.
“It’s not until you come across times of adversity and great struggle that you find inner resolve and strength and find what’s needed to carry on.”
Ms Bishop said no reasons for the verdict had yet been released by the court but she expected the Greste family would soon be provided with that.
She said there was no doubt the case against the journalist, from the outset, was politically motived.
“There’s no doubt proceedings in the first place were politically motivated,” she said.
“This was at a time when the military had taken over the government, the Muslim Brotherhood had been the democratically elected government, and then there was a coup and the Muslim Brotherhood was deemed a terrorist organisation.
“Peter Greste was reporting on those political scenarios at the time.”
She said Egypt now had an opportunity to show the world the nature of the new government, and its position on freedom of expression. – AAP