Peter Greste, the Al Jazeera journalist freed after more than a year in an Egyptian prison, has arrived back in his Australian homeland and called for the release of two colleagues still in custody.
Greste, 49, was released on Sunday after 400 days in a Cairo jail and had been in Cyprus since.
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He had been sentenced to seven years on charges rejected by Al Jazeera that included aiding a terrorist group in a case that had attracted widespread attention and criticism of Egypt’s leadership and judiciary.
“I can’t tell you how ecstatic I am to be here. This is a moment that I’ve rehearsed in my mind at least 400 times over the past well, 400 days,” Greste said on Wednesday after embracing well-wishers on his arrival in the Queensland state capital of Brisbane.
Greste’s colleagues, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, remain in prison.
They were jailed for between seven and 10 years on charges including spreading lies to help a terrorist organisation – a reference to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
Egyptian security officials have said Fahmy, a Canadian who also held Egyptian citizenship but has renounced it to be freed, could be released soon and deported to Canada.
John Baird, Canadian foreign minister, said this week that Fahmy’s release was imminent but gave no time-frame.
Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi issued a decree last November granting him the power to deport foreign defendants convicted or accused of crimes.
“If it’s right for me to be free then it’s right for all of us… I think that Egypt now has an opportunity to show that justice doesn’t depend on your nationality,” Greste said at a Brisbane news conference, flanked by members of his family.
Campaign to continue
Greste said later on Thursday he would continue to campaign for the release of his two colleagues, whom he described as brothers.
“You can imagine after 400 days in prison with these guys, we’re very close and it was very difficult to leave them behind,” Greste said.
“But I’m grateful to be out; I trust that they will follow in due course. … It’s going to take some further efforts, but we’ll see them out. And when we do, I’m going to party with them very, very hard indeed.”
He also said he wanted to return to journalism after spending time with his family.
In jail, Greste often meditated, letting his mind drift to happier days spent at the beach with his family.
He also began pursuing a master’s degree in international relations while in jail, working with materials mailed to him by an Australian university.
At no point, he said, did he believe he would have to serve his full seven-year sentence.
When Peter and his brother Mike arrived in the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus, where they spent two days recuperating before returning to Australia, he could not wait to feel the sand between his toes.
“I was really given an opportunity to look back at my life again too, look back at the screw-ups I have made, to appreciate all … the amazing things I’ve done and experienced in ways that I never really understood in the past,” Greste said.
The journalists say they were doing their jobs when detained. Their imprisonment reinforced the view of human rights groups that the government was rolling back freedoms gained after the 2011 uprising that toppled long-time President Hosni Mubarak.
They were detained in December 2013 and charged with helping a terrorist group by broadcasting lies that harmed national security.
But Baher Mohamed – who received the longest sentence in the case (10 years) – has no second citizenship, and his family worries that his fate as an Egyptian national is less clear.
He was given an extra three years for possessing a single bullet.