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Monday, 23 June 2014
Page: 6840

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Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (10:27): I move:

That this House:

(1) expresses concern at the detention in Egypt of Australian citizen Peter» «Greste» ;

(2) notes that:

(a) Mr «Greste» is detained and currently on trial solely for conducting his role as a journalist and for peacefully expressing his opinion on events in Egypt; and

(b) the imprisonment of «Peter» «Greste» is contrary to the right to freedom of speech and expression;

(3) recognises that the Prime Minister, Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Attorney-General have all been in contact with their Egyptian counterparts seeking «Peter» Greste's release; and

(4) notes that the Australian Government:

(a) is offering all possible consular assistance to «Peter» «Greste» and his family;

(b) has been working with Egyptian authorities at all appropriate opportunities; and

(c) is making direct and high-level representation to a number of other governments as part of a multi-pronged strategy to raise our ongoing concerns about the case.

I commence by paying tribute to the «Greste» family: Lois and Juris «Greste» , and Peter's brothers, Andrew and Mike. In particular, my contact has been with Lois and Juris, who have been so dignified and stoic at what must be one of the worst times in any parent's life. I doubt I could be as unfaltering if I were in their place.

«Peter» «Greste» is an internationally acclaimed Australian journalist and correspondent. He has worked for Reuters, CNN, WTN and the BBC. From 1991 to 1995 he was based in London, Bosnia and South Africa. In 1995 he was based in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was a correspondent for the BBC and Reuters, after which he was based in Belgrade, returned to London and then to Mexico, followed by Santiago. He returned to Afghanistan in 2001 to cover the start of the war. After Afghanistan he worked across the Middle East and Latin America. From 2004 he was based in Mombasa, Kenya, then Johannesburg, followed by Nairobi, where he has lived since 2009. In 2011 he won the Peabody Award for a documentary on Somalia. He is a correspondent for Al Jazeera in Africa.

So «Peter» truly is a citizen of the world, respected by everyone for his dedication, ability and professionalism. Communities across Australia and indeed the world who have been touched by «Peter» are now anxiously awaiting the verdict to be handed down later today our time. There are communities such as Indooroopilly High School, with over 50 «nations» represented in the student cohort and with social justice as one of their core values, so how appropriate that «Peter» was their school captain.

In moving this motion today, I also want to acknowledge the broad bipartisan support across the parliament—not only the seconder of the motion, the Honourable member for Berowra, Phillip Ruddock, who is also my predecessor as co-chair of Parliamentary Friends of Amnesty, but also my current fellow chairmen, the member for Scullin, Andrew Giles, the member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, and Senator Penny Wright.

It is appropriate that Parliamentary Friends of Amnesty take a keen interest in the «Peter» «Greste» trial. Amnesty International was founded in 1961 and is one of the largest and most active human rights organisations in the world. It is concerned strictly with prisoners and seeks the release of what they call 'prisoners of conscience'. Some of their guiding principles include a focus on the individual prisoner, all action being grounded on fact and the organisation being strictly impartial.

Being a journalist is not a crime. Telling the truth is not terrorism. The long-awaited verdict on «Peter» «Greste» is expected to be announced later tonight. The government remains hopeful that, when Mr Greste's trial is finalised, he will be acquitted on the charge of colluding with a terrorist organisation and released. Given the evidence presented by the prosecution, the foreign minister has stated that she would be highly concerned if «Peter» «Greste» is given a custodial sentence.

From the outset, the Australian government offered all possible assistance and Australian diplomats were allowed to be present for many of the hearings and interviews with Mr «Greste» . «Peter» was moved to Tora Prison on 1 January 2014. Conditions are basic and he was initially not allowed reading or writing material, nor to make contact with family and friends. However, consular officials visited Mr «Greste» on more than 22 occasions to date. Through consular representations officials obtained improvements in Mr Greste's prison conditions, including frequent consular visits, family visits, telephone calls to his parents in Australia, access to books and magazines, Arabic language textbooks, improved food rations and access to supplementary food items, and the installation of a fan in his cell.

Very shortly after his arrest, I met with his parents Lois and Juris, who had by that stage been in telephone contact with him. His parents had also been in direct contact with the foreign minister's office by that stage and were aware that Minister Bishop was offering all support and assistance that she and the government could provide. The government as a whole, and specifically the work of the foreign minister, the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General, has consistently made clear its deep concern at the charges against Mr «Greste» . We are all aware that he was doing nothing more than performing journalistic activities at the time of his arrest on 29 December 2013.

With the inauguration of President el-Sisi on June 8, the government continued its program of high-level representation to the Egyptian government, urging that Mr Greste's trial be concluded promptly and that he be enabled to return home. The Prime Minister spoke to the then interim Egyptian President Mansour, and foreign minister Bishop and the Attorney-General have also had discussions with their Egyptian counterparts.

Mr «Greste» was charged with collaborating with the outlawed group, known as the Muslim Brotherhood, by:

1. their agreement and assistance to supply members of that group with funds, equipment, tools and information, in full knowledge of that group's aims;

2. possession of publication and recordings that include promoting their goals in order to inform others about them, in full knowledge of that group's aims;

3. broadcasting data, news, false rumours and untrue images, and presenting them to the public, inside and outside the country, with the aim of creating an impression amongst public opinion that the country is witnessing a civil war in order to weaken the state's image and standing, to harm the country's national interest, disrupt public security, spread panic among the populous and inflict damage on the public interest; and

4. possession of telecommunications, photographic and broadcasting equipment, and equipment to transmit sound and images, without a permit from the competent authority.

Anyone who knows «Peter» «Greste» is confident that he is innocent of all these charges. There have to date been 12 hearings in Mr Greste's trial, in the Cairo Criminal Court. Mr «Greste» has been denied bail at all hearings.

There have been many and continuing instances where our government has made representations to the Egyptian authorities. Prime Minister Abbott spoke by telephone to then interim President Mansour and he expressed appreciation for the President's letter to Mr Greste's parents and sought assistance from the President to bring about an early resolution of the case and Mr Greste's release. Minister Bishop has spoken with Egyptian ministers on many occasions. She has met with Egypt's Ambassador to Australia and raised Mr Greste's case. The Attorney-General, Senator Brandis, also telephoned the Egyptian justice minister about the case in April. Australia's Ambassador to Egypt, Dr Ralph King, met the Minister of Justice and the Prosecutor-General in January to seek advice on the basis of the investigation into the activities of Mr «Greste» . Dr King also met the Assistant Minister for Prison Affairs to seek improved prison conditions and he also met the President of the Court of Appeal to press for the ongoing provision of a translator for Mr «Greste» during court proceedings. As well as other high-level meetings, Lois and Juris, Peter's parents, wrote an open letter, to which the then-interim President and Chief Justice of Egypt, Mr Adly Mansour, replied that he would 'spare no effort to work towards the speedy resolution of the case'.

The case of «Peter» «Greste» is incredibly concerning. Free press is in every person's and every country's interests. As Prime Minister Tony Abbott stated:

A free press will help every country, including Egypt, to be better in the months and years ahead and obviously a free press is not compatible with harassing journalists going about their ordinary business.

The trial of «Peter» «Greste» has received notable international reaction. In January, US Secretary of State John Kerry said:

We have consistently expressed our serious concern about the limits on freedom of peaceful assembly and expression in Egypt, including leading up to the referendum, just as we expressed our concerns about the dangerous path Egypt's elected government has chosen in the year that led to 2013's turbulence. The «United» States again urges all sides to condemn and prevent violence and to move towards an inclusive political process based on the rule of law and respect for the fundamental freedoms of all Egyptians.

The Office of the «United» «Nations» High Commissioner for Human Rights has also called for the release of Mr «Greste . A spokesperson for the high commissioner said that the arrest was based on vague charges and was of great concern and had increased fears among the general media. In a White House press briefing in February, spokesman Jay Carney said that the detention was 'of deep concern to the administration,' and went on to say, 'We have strongly urged the Egyptian government to drop these charges.'

With the verdict being handed down today, I think I can speak for all Australians when I say that we are hopeful for a positive outcome and our hearts go out to his family during this tough time. Being a journalist is not a crime. Telling the truth is not terrorism. I commend the motion to the House.