Ambassador’s remarks raise hope for Greste

Egypt’s ambassador to Australia Hassan El-Laithy commented upon the case of Peter Greste Wednesday to Australian media, prompting hopes that the three Al Jazeera journalists sentenced to multiple-year prison terms in Cairo might soon stand an improved chance of receiving clemency from the government.  

Peter’s brother Andrew Greste, speaking for his family, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Thursday that while he was "encouraged" by the ambassador's comments, his family needed to see more than just words from the Egyptians.

"It's great to have these comments but we'd also love to have them backed up by some real action," he said.

Dr El-Laithy told Fairfax Media he takes Mr Greste's case "very seriously" and said he agreed with Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop that Peter Greste was "in the wrong place at the wrong time".

"I hope when the procedures come to an end, in the courts, everything will be cleared, that's what I really hope for, I hope that he will be reunited with his family, sooner rather than later," the Ambassador said.

El-Laithy also tried to explain that Peter Greste, having entered Egypt on a tourist visa, was therefore considered to be barred from reporting professionally while in the country.

However, Andrew Greste cast doubt on whether his brother had breached his visa conditions but said even if he had, he should have been fined, and not jailed.

"The good ambassador made reference to Peter being unlicensed over there, that may well be true but the maximum penalty for operating without a licence is not a jail term, it's a fine," he said. He also said it was possible the deadline for applying for a journalist visa had not yet expired at the time Peter Greste was detained.

Peter Greste's Brisbane-based parents, Juris and Lois, who both recently returned from Egypt, were in Canberra on Wednesday night to attend a black-tie dinner commemorating the 50th anniversary of the National Press Club. They were seated at the same table as Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who acknowledged their presence but did not raise the issue of their son's detention in Cairo in his speech. 

Meanwhile Australian political commentator Bruce Haigh criticized Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for their awkward diplomacy toward Egypt, even as Australia’s leader strongly pledged his country’s support to US President Barack Obama’s initiatives against the rise of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, not to mention Ukraine.

As Haigh opined:

"It is not in Abbott's nature to consider diplomacy as an aspect of war and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is not sufficiently experienced to be across the many tools of trade available to her. However it seems strange that Australia is considering such an active role in Iraq when many with a greater stake in the outcome of IS rampaging are sitting by. Egypt which claims to be opposed to Islamic fundamentalism has not lifted a finger.

Through a wilful miscarriage of justice an Australian journalist, Peter Greste, sits rotting in an Egyptian jail for his alleged links to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

In the meantime Australia is doing the heavy lifting for the bullying military regime in Cairo. Abbott and Bishop should be twisting the ear of the Egyptian President until his country picks up its share of the IS burden and in the process release Greste. Does Egypt have the courage to put its money where its mouth is? Australia should deploy all of its diplomatic tools to find out and achieve an outcome that will lessen our burden."

Peter Greste is a dual-citizen of Australia and Latvia, however has yet to be issued his passport for which he applied years ago. As LSM reported last week, Latvia's Foreign Ministry is trying to expedite this particular formality despite the complicating circumstances of Greste's current incarceration in Cairo.

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