Australian journalist Peter Greste has called on Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to do what he promised and pardon his innocent Al Jazeera colleagues, who are back behind bars.
Greste said on Sunday he felt sick to his stomach after a Cairo court sentenced him, Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohammed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed to three years in prison for broadcasting false news.
Their retrial came after an appeals court last year overturned their initial sentences of seven years’ prison for Greste and Fahmy and 10 years for Mohammed on charges including supporting a banned terrorist group.
Greste was deported in February and tried in absentia while his two colleagues were out on bail in Egypt.
A deeply disappointed Greste told reporters in Sydney the trial was politically motivated and there was no evidence to support the allegations.
“President el-Sisi now has an opportunity to undo that injustice, to correct that injustice,” he said.
“The eyes of the world are on Egypt … it is now up to President el-Sisi to do what he said he would do from the outset, and that is pardon us if we were ever convicted.”
The men were charged with airing falsified footage intended to damage national security and with being part of ousted president Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which is considered a terrorist organisation, in 2013.
Amal Clooney, a high-profile human rights lawyer representing Fahmy, said the conviction of the three “sends a dangerous message” and there was no evidence to sustain any of the charges.
Greste said the case extended beyond the trio, to freedom of the press, the law and democracy in Egypt.
He called on governments, diplomats and the public to continue the online fight for justice.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop issued a statement after the verdict on Saturday night, promising to continue to pursue all diplomatic avenues with her Egyptian counterpart to clear Greste’s name.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten described the sentence as “outrageous”.
“My thoughts are not only with him and his family, but his two journalistic colleagues in Egypt,” he told reporters in Brisbane.
The Australian journalists’ union the MEAA said it was appalled and outraged at the sentence.
“While journalists continue to be attacked for their journalism, there can be no press freedom in Egypt.”
While Greste’s thoughts were with his jailed colleagues, facing time in solitary confinement without access to family or lawyers, he noted the verdict made it almost impossible for him to continue as a foreign correspondent.
He had a criminal record, he couldn’t travel to any country that had an extradition treaty with Egypt and if he left Australia, he risked being arrested on an international warrant.