300 days in jail for ‘doing their jobs’

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt has told Arab journalists he plans to pardon Australian-Latvian journalist Peter Greste and his Al Jazeera network colleagues when their January-scheduled appeal hearing concludes, reported Dubai-based news channel Al Arabiya Friday.

Australian government sources confirmed the report, saying that talks between Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and her Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, had been favorable and the government was left believing Greste might be able to come home early, wrote the Sydney Morning Herald Friday.

Al Arabiya cited an Egyptian interview with Muayyad al-Lami, vice-president of the Arab Journalists Association, in which he said President al-Sisi told a meeting of the association on Monday that a pardon would be granted "once the legal proceedings are concluded".

The news came as Greste – a highly respected journalist who had just begun working for Al Jazeera's Egypt field team in December – chalked up his 300th day in prison.

A Cairo court earlier this week set an appeal date of January 1 for Greste and his colleagues. However that process could take weeks or even months to hear completely.

Greste and two colleagues, Egyptian-Canadian Cairo bureau chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, were sentenced to multiple years jail terms in June after being convicted of producing false news to defame Egypt.

Middle East experts have said Greste was effectively caught up in broader regional politics. His employer, Qatar-owned news channel Al Jazeera, is seen by the Egyptian government as a threat because the Qatari government supports the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which briefly held power in Egypt before President al-Sisi took over the government and banned the religious-political group.

Middle East news source Al-Monitor reported Friday that Baher Mohammed, producer of Al Jazeera’s Egypt field team may likely have provided authorities with testimony damaging both to his colleagues’ individual cases as well as that of the Arab world’s news network. In his statements Baher Mohammed says he was under pressure to alter reports and ‘present them in a bad way.’ He also claimed the network provided large sums of cash through its team to pay off false testifiers, which anonymous sources at Al Jazeera sharply denied as being impossible for correspondents to handle.

Meanwhile, Greste’s brother Andrew tweeted a reminder to the world that Peter and his colleagues have now sat in Cairo’s notorious Tora Prison for 300 days now and counting.

 

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