Egyptian Ambassador Hopes Greste Freed Soon

The Egyptian Ambassador to Australia Hassan El-Laithy says he “hopes and expects” jailed journalist Peter Greste will be reunited with his family in Brisbane “sooner rather than later”.

Mr Greste and his two Al Jazeera colleagues were detained in December 2013 and found guilty in June of spreading false news to defame Egypt. He was sentenced to seven years jail, a verdict that sparked international condemnation.

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 Ambassor said.

The trio is appealing their sentences and Dr El-Laithy has suggested a “strong defence team” for Mr Greste will be “able to go through the laws to find the best ways for him”.

“And I assure you this is the real position – we hope to see him back home,” he said. But the Ambassador could not specify what legal mechanisms could be used to free the journalists nor whether it would require the president’s involvement.

The ambassador was critical of the journalists’ Qatari-backed employer Al Jazeera and said both the broadcaster’s English and Arabic channels were biased in favour of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

“Unfortunately people here would think that Al Jazeera is different to Al Jazeera Arabic, which is not real, it is the same message in a different language,” he said and denied Mr Greste’s case was a human rights violation because local laws were clear.

“I believe as we have clear laws in Egypt that stated that kind of media broadcasting is illegal, so I think it has nothing to do with human rights violations,” he said.  The ambassador said Mr Greste was on a tourist visa and was “not allowed to report” at the time of his arrest. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has since said he wished Mr Greste had been deported instead of charged.

Dr El-Laithy said his desire to try and expand the $600 million trading relationship between Australia and Egypt had become bogged down with Mr Greste’s case.

“This issue has had a big impact because we talk together now and we talk only of Peter Greste, with all due respect to him, and we don’t talk about the other important things too, like farmers who would like to export to Egypt,” he said.

“It has overshadowed the general environment between the two countries; you cannot see the relationship between two countries from only one dimension,” he said. Ms Bishop has firmly told the ambassador that Cairo cannot expect a “business as usual” approach with Canberra for as long as Mr Greste remains behind bars.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald