Egypt’s President has said he plans to pardon jailed Australian journalist Peter Greste and his colleagues after their appeal early next year, according to an Arabic news report.
The report by the Dubai-based news channel Al Arabiya says President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told Arab journalists he would pardon the Al Jazeera reporters, who were sentenced to seven years’ jail in June.
Australian government sources confirmed the substance of the report, saying that discussions between Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and her Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, had been positive and the government was left with the impression Greste would be able to come home early.
Al Arabiya cited an Egyptian interview with Muayyad al-Lami, vice-president of the Arab Journalists Association, in which he said Mr al-Sisi told a meeting of the association on Monday that a pardon would be granted “once the legal proceedings are concluded”.
It comes as Greste – a highly respected journalist who was working for Al Jazeera – clocked up his 300th day in prison.
A Cairo court earlier this week set an appeal date of January 1 for Greste and his colleagues. However that process could take weeks or even months.
Greste and two colleagues, Egyptian-Canadian Cairo bureau chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, were sentenced to seven years’ jail in June after being convicted of producing false news to defame Egypt.
Middle East experts have said Greste was effectively caught up in broader regional politics. His employer, Qatar-owned news channel Al Jazeera, is perceived by the Egyptian government as a threat because the Qatari government is close to the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which briefly held power in Egypt before Mr al-Sisi took government and has since been banned.
Egypt ambassador to Australia Hassan El-Laithy told Fairfax Media last month that the issue had overshadowed the Australia-Egypt relationship and he “hopes and expects” the journalist will be reunited with his family “sooner rather than later”.
Dr El-Laithy would not specify how the journalists could be freed but said he hoped the matter would be cleared once the trio’s appeal concluded.
Andrew Greste, the brother of Peter, said at the time he was “encouraged” by the words but added he would “love to have them backed up by some real action”.
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