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Tuesday, 24 June 2014
Page: 3692

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«Greste» , Mr «Peter»

Senator KROGER (VictoriaChief Government Whip) (14:22): My question is to the Attorney-General, representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Brandis. Can the Attorney-General advise the Senate of the Australian government's reaction to the conviction and sentencing of «Peter» «Greste» overnight and the reaction of the international community?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:23): Can I begin by acknowledging the close interest that Senator Kroger has taken in this matter in recent months. As senators will be aware, last night the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Mr «Greste» to seven years imprisonment on charges of 'spreading false news' and 'supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood'. The Australian government and people are dismayed and appalled that an internationally respected journalist such as Mr «Greste» should have been convicted in such circumstances and should have imposed upon him such a severe sentence.

The government understands that Egypt has been through some very difficult times in recent years, but this kind of verdict and sentence does nothing to support Egypt's claims to be transitioning to democracy. The Australian government urges the new Egyptian government to reflect on what messages this sentence is sending to the international community.

On behalf of the government I want to acknowledge the swift and widespread outpouring of international sentiment after the verdict from governments, the United Nations, the European Union, NGOs, press associations and individuals. They include the comments of the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, who described the sentence as 'chilling and draconian'; the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillai, who described the charges as 'alarming' and the proceedings as 'a breach of international human rights law'; and the United Kingdom, Dutch and Latvian foreign ministers, among others. The common thread of all their remarks, which the Australian government joins with, is that freedom—in this case particularly freedom of the press—is fundamental to a democracy and that Mr «Greste» has suffered a grievous injustice.

Senator KROGER (VictoriaChief Government Whip) (14:25): Can the Attorney-General advise the Senate what the Australian government is doing to assist Mr «Greste» ?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:25): Senior ministers have made numerous representations to their counterpart ministers in the Egyptian government. Representations were made by the Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and me, as well as at ambassadorial level. Within minutes of hearing of the sentence, the foreign minister spoke to Mr Greste's parents and reassured them that the government would continue direct representations to the Egyptian government, its neighbours and our partners. The foreign minister spoke to our ambassador in Cairo last night to request that he arrange for an urgent call to the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Mr Shoukry, with whom she had spoken as recently as last weekend. This morning the acting secretary of DFAT called in Egypt's acting ambassador to express the strong concerns of Australia about the verdict, and the acting ambassador gave an undertaking that those concerns would be conveyed to Cairo. Consular officials will continue to provide all appropriate consular assistance to Mr «Greste» and support to his family.

Senator KROGER (VictoriaChief Government Whip) (14:26): I want to thank the minister for that advice. Can the Attorney-General inform the Senate what the options are for Mr «Peter» «Greste» following the verdict?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:26): We will leave comment to Mr Greste's family and his legal team on the question of an appeal against the conviction and sentence. It is unclear how long any process of appeal might take. The Australian government will be lodging a formal request imminently with President el-Sisi, seeking his intervention in the matter. Might I say—and I am sure I say so on behalf of all honourable senators—that our thoughts and prayers are with Mr «Greste , his family, his friends and his colleagues at this most distressing time.