Greste appeal date set amid hopes for release

Jailed Australian journalist Peter Greste’s appeal date, and that of his colleagues Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohammed, has been set for January 1 next year by an Egyptian court.

Mr Greste is currently serving a seven year sentence at Egypt’s Tora prison on charges of assisting the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned Islamist group, and defaming Egypt. Mr Fahmy is also serving a seven year sentence, while Mr Mohammed is serving a ten year sentence.

Mr Greste’s legal team filed an appeal against his conviction in August this year, but the confirmation of a date for a hearing has given rise to hopes the process could end his release.

In a speech given on his behalf at the recent Frontline Club Awards in London, Mr Greste noted the importance of a commitment to ethical and professional standards at a time when the media industry and journalists are under threat. The speech was read by Mr Greste’s Al Jazeera colleague Sue Turton, who is also on charges from the Egyptian government for her coverage of the country’s politics.

Mr Greste paid tribute to two journalists recently executed by the Islamic State, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, who he said “paid the ultimate price for working in an industry increasingly reliant on brave, committed freelancers”.

“Of course the extremists who murdered them weren’t concerned about who they worked for,” he wrote. “What mattered was that they were journalists, and that they were Westerners. And in those respects, they represent a shocking example of a broader state of affairs faced by thousands of journalists around the world.”

Mr Greste noted the importance of a free press to a functioning democracy. He cited a letter that reached him in prison, which reminded him that journalists “rank…somewhere between used car salesmen and abattoir workers in terms of social status”.

However the letter went on to say: “’I also know that fearless and frank journalism as practised by true professionals is what keeps our treasured democracy so strong.

“The hunger for reliable news and the recognition of the role it plays in a healthy, functioning democracy is still there, but we can’t take public support for granted.”

Ms Turton explained to the Frontline Club audience how Mr Greste’s speech made it out of the prison.

“Peter . . . couldn’t write the speech and hand it to us,” she said. “Basically he had to dictate it to his family members who visit him once a fortnight.”

“So it’s been quite arduous really, putting this speech together, and I’m sure we can all appreciate how important it is to get his words out. Just to add, if the authorities thought he smuggled the speech out then his privileges would have been taken away, so if anybody relays how we got this speech it’s very important that you mention that.”

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