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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 10083


Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Werriwa) (11:43): I move:

That this House:

(1) notes:

(a ) that Peter Greste has had a distinguished career as a journalist with CNN, Reuters, WTN, BBC and Al Jazeera;

(b ) the long pre-trial incarceration, refusal of bail, procedural errors, extraordinary allegations, and acknowledged extremely severe sentences; and

(c) widespread international condemnation of the process, characterised by United States Secretary of State John Kerry's comment that it was 'a chilling and draconian sentence'; and

(2) calls on the Government to continue pressing Egyptian authorities for justice and raising these human rights issues in all viable international fora.

At the outset, I thank the member for Macmillan for initiating this motion. He approached me about this and asked if I could frame some words. We also had some discussions with legal representatives for Peter Greste to make sure that we did not go against his interests.

As I indicated in a previous contribution in relation to this matter, Peter Greste is a world-renowned journalist. He has worked on four continents and in 2011 received a Peabody Award. That is an important ingredient of this reality: this person is internationally recognised, he is reputable, he is renowned for his work. In that context it is preposterous to say, as Egyptian authorities have, that because he works for Al Jazeera, which is based in Qatar, and because of Qatar's association with the Muslim Brotherhood, in some convoluted, irresponsible fashion, this supposedly indicates that he is supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood. He was arrested on 29 December last and commented on 26 January, the next month, 'I have no desire to weaken Egypt nor in any way see it struggle…Our arrest doesn't seem to be about our work at all. It seems to be about staking out what the government here considers to be normal and acceptable.'

Obviously the seeming public reality is that because they engaged with the Muslim Brotherhood, because they gave them an opportunity to put their views, because they sought their interpretation of events—and they are somewhat controversial, quite frankly, in Egypt. I recall going to rallies against the previous Morsi government's measures against the Coptic minority on a number of occasions and I deplored its actions. There is some controversy about what occurred in regard to Morsi's replacement by a military led regime, so it is legitimate for reporters to go out there and ask for alternative points of view.

On 29 January Egypt indicated that it would prosecute 20 Al Jazeera journalists, including Greste. Typical of world reaction was the comment of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 1 February, 'We urge the Egyptian authorities to promptly release all journalists imprisoned for carrying out legitimate news reporting activities in exercise of their fundamental human rights.' There are grave questions about the way this whole case has been conducted. There was a 22-minute report on the arrest and interrogation with sci-fi film music in the background. There was the question of photoshopped pictures of Greste with high ranking Egyptian government officials, images of cars on a bridge and a documentary produced by Greste on a very controversial issue—soccer!

The conviction was widely condemned by Western media and governments. Deakin University lecturer on Middle Eastern studies, Mat Hardy, said that the reality was that there would be only be one outcome: 'Once the case started moving it didn't matter what evidence was presented.' British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said, 'Egypt should review unacceptable sentences against Egyptian and international journalists and show commitment to freedom of the press.' Similarly, the Secretary of State in the United States, John Kerry, said, 'The conviction and chilling, draconian sentences by the Cairo Criminal Court of three Al Jazeera journalists…lacked many fundamental norms of due process, is a deeply disturbing setback to Egypt's transition.'

The wide-ranging allegations remind me somewhat of a book I am reading at the moment—Jacek Hugo-Bader's book Kolyma Diaries: A Journey into Russia's Haunted Hinterland. In that there is a person who was sentenced to 20 years jail under article 58 of the Soviet measures because he, as a student leader, was approached by other students to look at a program they had, a political program. He was then jailed for 20 years under three provisions—terrorism, group activity and anti-Soviet agitation. I am afraid that some of the allegations against Greste and co. would seem to be those wide-ranging comments.

I am pleased that on 10 September the Egyptian Ambassador to Australia, Dr Hassan El-Laithy, commented, '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. And I assure you that this is the real position—we hope to see him back home.'

I think the Australian parliament, regardless of political views, regardless of the level of activity on human rights, regardless of members' interests in international matters, is united in the need for this to happen. We are also somewhat reassured by comments on 7 July by the President of Egypt saying, 'I wished they were deported right after they were arrested instead of getting put on trial.' So between the lines there is some hope. I am pleased to join with the member for McMillan and others today in calling for Australia to raise this matter in every international fora possible.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Randall ): Is the motion seconded?