Australian media rally for jailed journalists

Australia’s media community staged a symbolic mid-day social media protest at Melbourne’s Federation Square Monday to call for Egypt to acquit and release their fellow colleague and countryman, Peter Greste and his two Al Jazeera team members, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, reports Victoria state’s The Age.

The gathered supporters of press freedom snapped photos of the big screen displaying the faces of the three journalists, and launched a mass sharing of the frames across Twitter, urging the world to retweet the image on behalf of the imprisoned reporters.

Michael Rowland, president of the Melbourne Press Club, said the aim of the rally was to express anger and concern at the “distorted legal process and the role of the Egyptian government in sitting over this, and allowing Peter Greste and his colleagues to be sent to jail”.

Former Victoria premier Ted Baillieu also spoke at the protest, saying it was “important that those involved in the media step up and show their solidarity”.

Baillieu said he was concerned for the welfare of the journalists, and that he had been “dealing with the Egyptian consulate, had a petition running since the conviction, and talked to Amnesty International a few weeks ago”.

But he stressed that people needed to recognise the protest was not anti-Egypt.

"My impression is that the vast majority of the Egyptian diaspora in Victoria – and a vast majority of people in Egypt – are similarly dismayed by this." 

On her part, Louise Connor of Victoria’s Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance urged Australian PM Tony Abbott to speak personally to Egypt’s president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. Previous statements by the head-of-state have Australian and Latvian diplomats hopeful that the journalists might have a prospect of being deported instead of serving out their extended jail terms. 

The judgement and sentencing of Greste and his associates has attracted widespread international condemnation. Latvian diplomats have repeatedly spoken out for his release while collaborating with their Australian counterparts.

Much of the evidence presented to the Cairo court by prosecutors in their trial has been widely criticized as “absurd”. The journalists have been in the custody of Egypt’s law enforcement agencies for 200 days now since their arrest.

Greste, an Australian of Latvian descent who has dual Latvian citizenship through his father, was detained with his colleagues in December by Egyptian authorities. They were accused of reporting on the Muslim Brotherhood, at that time deemed a terrorist organization by al-Sisi's government, in the aftermath of a coup ousting elected president Mohamed Morsi, the Brotherhood's leader.

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