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Egypt frees Australian journalist Peter Greste and deported to his country

By Tajuddin
In SPOTLIGHT
Feb 1st, 2015
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Peter Greste

Peter Greste

Cairo ( Agencies + DIPLOMAT.SO) – The Egyptian authorities have released and deported an Australian journalist jailed for more than a year in a case that had been criticized by human rights groups.

The Australian, Peter Greste, is one of three journalists for Al Jazeera’s English-language affiliate jailed on charges of reporting false news in a conspiracy with the Muslim Brotherhood to destabilize the country.

Although Egypt has a long history of jailing critical or dissenting Egyptian journalists, the authorities have generally left alone Western journalists.

The incarceration of Mr. Greste, an Australian who worked for the BBC until shortly before his arrest, and his colleagues sent a tremor of anxiety through the international media contingent here, and some Egyptian journalists said privately that it appeared intended to send a warning message to them as well.

Many analysts here also argued that the case was also an attempt to punish Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera and nurtured close ties to President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood before he was ousted in a military takeover by the current president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Al Jazeera’s Arabic language networks, most notably a dedicated Egyptian channel, provided sympathetic coverage of the Brotherhood and critical coverage of the takeover.

A recent decision by Qatar to shut down Al Jazeera’s Egyptian channel as part of a reconciliation agreement with Egypt brokered by Saudi Arabia may have helped pave the way for Mr. Greste’s release. But Egypt did not disclose the specific reasons for its decision or the timing.

All three Al Jazeera English journalists who were imprisoned in Egypt are experienced veterans of highly respected international news organizations, including the BBC, CNN and a major Japanese network. They were arrested on the same charges at the end of 2013, and prosecutors presented no public evidence to support the charges before the journalists were convicted. They received sentences of at least seven years in prison.

The official state news agency said Mr. Sisi had approved the release, presumably under a decree he issued a few months ago giving himself the power to deport convicted prisoners who are citizens of other nations.

The other two Al Jazeera English journalists remain in prison: Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, a dual citizen of Egypt and Canada, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian.

Egypt does not recognize dual nationality, treating Mr. Fahmy as only an Egyptian citizen. But it is possible he may be allowed to give up his Egyptian citizenship in order to be released to Canada. Mr. Mohamed has no such recourse.

Badr Abdelatty, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, said that by 5 p.m. on Sunday Mr. Greste had already flown out of Egypt. “He left to his country,” Mr. Abdelatty said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent nonprofit group, said in December that at least 12 journalists were in jail in Egypt, most of them Egyptian citizens. Mr. Greste’s departure presumably reduces that number to at least 11.

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