Australian foreign minister warns Egypt of 'ramifications' of trying Al Jazeera reporter

Ahram Online , Tuesday 4 Aug 2015

Peter Greste
Australian journalist Peter Greste (Photo: Reuters)

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop revealed that her country warned Egyptian authorities of “ramifications” if they continue with the prosecution of Al Jazeera English journalist Peter Greste, who was deported to Australia earlier this year while his trial over terrorism-related charges continues.

In an interview for ABC's Foreign Correspondent program, which aired on Tuesday, Bishop told Greste she spoke with Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry last month to "set out quite plainly Australia's position" and warn that the trial "would have ramifications for the relationship and for Egypt's reputation more generally."

The final verdict against Greste and two other Al Jazeera journalists being tried in the case was due last Thursday but has since been adjourned twice because the presiding judge was reportedly ill, with the court rescheduling it to 29 August.

The three men were originally sentenced to between seven and 10 years in prison on charges including "spreading false news" in support of a terrorist organisation, a reference to the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Bishop told Greste that if the Egyptian government "insists on trialing you in absentia then you should have the opportunity to give your side of the story" after the Australian reporter's offer to provide the Cairo court with evidence in a video was refused.

Greste was deported in February, while Cairo bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, a naturalised Canadian citizen who recently renounced his Egyptian citizenship to win deportation, and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, were released on bail days later along with other defendants at the start of the retrial.

The foreign minister acknowledged Australia had "very little political leverage with Egypt," and so it launched a "very concerted campaign of advocacy" involving high-level diplomatic contacts from the US, the EU, and the UN.

Bishop added that pressuring Cairo for the release of Greste and his colleagues was "a delicate balancing act," alluding to the charges of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that Egypt declared a terrorist organization.

"We understood [the Egyptian government's] concerns about counter-terrorism, but in this instance we were talking about a couple of journalists who were doing their job. That's what journalists do," Bishop added.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said during a news conference with US secretary of State John Kerry that no journalists were jailed in Egypt over their reporting.

Short link: