Orla Guerin: “Peter Greste and his colleagues insist that the only thing they are guilty of is doing their jobs”

Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste has been freed and deported from Egypt and flown to Cyprus, bringing an end to 400 days behind bars.

The Australian ex-BBC correspondent was arrested in December 2013 and tried on charges that included spreading false news and aiding the Muslim Brotherhood.

Two al-Jazeera colleagues, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, remain jailed.

Reports said Mr Fahmy would be deported to Canada, but concern remains about Mr Mohamed, who holds no dual nationality.

Mr Fahmy, who holds dual Egyptian and Canadian citizenship, may be freed after having his Egyptian nationality revoked, presidential sources said.

All the defendants denied the charges against them and said their trial was a sham.

They were accused of collaborating with the banned Muslim Brotherhood after the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi by the military in 2013.

In their defence, the three men said they were simply reporting the news.

Mr Greste’s brother Andrew said in a statement: “We’re ecstatic that Peter has been released and we now ask if the world could respect his privacy, to give him time to appreciate his freedom before he faces the media.”

Juris Greste (R) displays a picture of his son, jailed Australian Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste, next to his wife Lois (L) during a press conference in Brisbane on June 24, 2014.Peter Greste’s parents have spearheaded the campaign for his release

Al-Jazeera tweeted that it welcomed Peter Greste’s release and demanded Mr Fahmy and Mr Mohamed be freed.

Mostefa Souag, acting director-general of al-Jazeera media network, said in a statement: “We’re pleased for Peter and his family that they are to be reunited. It has been an incredible and unjustifiable ordeal for them, and they have coped with incredible dignity…

“We will not rest until Baher and Mohamed also regain their freedom.

“The Egyptian authorities have it in their power to finish this properly today, and that is exactly what they must do.”

‘Relieved and delighted’Mr Greste’s release came after a long campaign and a series of hints from Egyptian officials.

In November, President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi said he was considering the possibility of granting pardons to the two foreign al-Jazeera journalists. He had earlier signed a decree on repatriating foreign prisoners.

The BBC’s Richard Galpin reports on how Peter Greste ended up in jail

Then in January, Egypt’s top court ordered a retrial of all three men.

Mr Greste’s release was eventually confirmed by a statement issued by the Egyptian Interior Ministry.

The statement said it had been “decided to extradite Australian journalist Peter Greste… to his country today, 1 February (2015)… after the cabinet’s approval, in enforcement of the Presidential Decree no. 140 for the year 2014 regarding the rulings on extraditing defendants and deporting the convicts”.

An official told Associated Press the release had been co-ordinated with the Australian embassy in Cairo.

Mr Greste left Cairo for Larnaca, Cyprus at about 16:00 local time on Sunday. His brother Mike and airport officials later confirmed that he landed at Larnaca airport.

He is now expected to travel to his native Australia, where his parents Lois and Juris, and brother Andrew, are due to speak at 10:00 on Monday (00:00 GMT).


Timeline: Journalists’ detention

Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste, fileMr Fahmy (left) and Mr Mohamed remain in jail

29 December 2013: Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy arrested in police raid on Cairo’s Marriott Hotel. Baher Mohamed later arrested at home

  • 29 January 2014: 20 people including the three journalists referred to trial, charged with spreading false news, belonging to a terrorist organisation and operating without a permit
  • 22 February: First court appearance of the three journalists
  • 23 June: Defendants sentenced to seven years, with Baher Mohamed receiving an additional three years
  • 12 November: President Sisi signs decree allowing repatriation of foreign prisoners
  • 1 January 2015: Highest court orders retrial, but the three journalists not allowed bail

How journalists were jailed in Egypt

Who are the jailed journalists?


Colleagues’ joyThere has been a huge international campaign to try to secure the release of the reporters.

Al-Jazeera’s managing director Al Anstey said: “I can’t tell you how relieved we are that Peter has left Egypt and is on his way to be reunited with his family.”

Sue Turton, an al-Jazeera journalist charged in absentia and sentenced to 10 years in prison by Egypt’s court, told the BBC all her colleagues “were delighted” that he was released.

Sue Turton: Peter Greste phoned and said we still have to get the other two out

She said one of her colleagues managed to talk to Mr Greste on the phone as he waited at a departure lounge at Cairo’s airport. She said “he was joking, and obviously he’s elated. But his second sentence straight after that elation was – we’ve still got to get the other two out”.

Mr Fahmy holds Egyptian and Canadian citizenship and was al-Jazeera’s Cairo bureau chief.

His fiancee, Marwa Omara, quoted by Reuters, said she was “hopeful” he would also soon be released and deported to Canada.

Mr Mohamed, a producer, is an Egyptian national and therefore not subject to deportation. His fate is not clear.

In their original trial, Mr Greste and Mr Fahmy were sentenced to seven years and Mr Mohamed to 10.

The case has caused tension between Egypt and Qatar – where al-Jazeera is based – although ties between the nations have improved recently.