ISTANBUL —The parents of jailed Australian journalist Peter Greste, who is serving a seven-year sentence in Egypt for what have been widely denounced as false charges, appealed to Egypt’s president on Friday to send their son home before Christmas.
“Dear Mr. President el-Sisi,” Peter’s Greste’s father, Juris Greste, said solemnly at a televised press conference in Brisbane, Australia. “We realize that the decision to free Peter isn’t entirely in your hands alone, but please, please see to it that Peter is back with his family before Christmas.”
The family’s statement comes one day after Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi told France 24 that the issue of the two foreign Al Jazeera journalists — Greste and Mohamed Fahmy, an dual Egyptian-Canadian citizen — was “currently under discussion.”
Greste and Fahmy, along with Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, were arrested in December 2013 on a slew of charges, including supposedly aiding members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that is now banned from Egypt. In June, the three journalists received a sentence of seven to 10 years in jail. Sisi did not mention whether the fate of Mohamed was being discussed, as he is not a foreign national.
Three years after the revolution against longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s new government has taken an authoritarian turn. Protests without state approval are illegal, and outspoken critics of the government are routinely rounded up and jailed. There have been widespread accusations of torture and arrests without cause. Thousands of people — mostly Islamists, but also secularists, journalists and academics — have been jailed in Egypt’s security crackdown. Egypt has become a country where a person can be detained for merely talking about politics in a cafe.
Egypt is currently battling a bloody insurgency, with most attacks taking place in the restive Sinai Peninsula. The country has also labeled the Muslim Brotherhood — the group loyal to Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected but controversial ousted president — as a terrorist organization. Sisi has promised to restore security to the protest-weary country.
While Sisi was not president at the time of the journalists’ arrest, he faces considerable international pressure to pardon them. Human rights organizations, foreign governments and fellow journalists have all denounced their arrest as an assault on press freedom.
“If I were president at that time,” Sisi told France 24 on Thursday, “I would have decided, for the good and the security of Egypt, that the journalists would have to be expelled, so [it would] put an end to this issue once and for all.”
Greste’s parents say they will travel to Cairo for their son’s Dec. 1 birthday. If he is not released by Christmas as hoped, they will stay for his appeal date, set for Jan. 1.
“The fact is that Peter is innocent,” said Greste’s mother Lois, as she sat next to her husband. “He should never have been in jail for the 11 months. We just hope that this will all be over very soon.”