Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste learns fate in Egyptian court

Australian journalist Peter Greste, who has been detained in Egypt on suspicion of breaching the country's security.
Australian journalist Peter Greste, who has been detained in Egypt on suspicion of breaching the country's security.
Al Jazeera journalists (L-R) Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed stand behind bars at a court in Cairo June 1, 2014. Photo: Reuters

Al Jazeera journalists (L-R) Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed stand behind bars at a court in Cairo June 1, 2014. Photo: Reuters

Ruth Pollard

Ruth Pollard

A protester, with a taped mouth, stands with a sign during a protest against the detainment of Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt, in Beirut February 8, 2014. Photo: Reuters

A protester, with a taped mouth, stands with a sign during a protest against the detainment of Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt, in Beirut February 8, 2014. Photo: Reuters

The Greste brothers (L-R): Michael, Andrew and Peter. Photo: Facebook

The Greste brothers (L-R): Michael, Andrew and Peter. Photo: Facebook

Supporters of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi march in protest over his removal by the Egyptian military on July 5, 2013. Photo: Getty Images

Supporters of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi march in protest over his removal by the Egyptian military on July 5, 2013. Photo: Getty Images

Greste appears in a defendant's cage along with several other defendants during their trial on, May 15, 2014. Photo: Reuters

Greste appears in a defendant's cage along with several other defendants during their trial on, May 15, 2014. Photo: Reuters

Peter Greste's parents Lois and Juris wait for verdict from Egypt. Photo: Sophie McNeill/Twitter

Peter Greste's parents Lois and Juris wait for verdict from Egypt. Photo: Sophie McNeill/Twitter

After six months in an Egyptian prison and 12 court sessions in which the prosecution’s case has veered from the farcical to the irrelevant, it is judgment day for Australian journalist Peter Greste and his colleagues.

Facing a sentence of seven to 15 years for conspiring with the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood to falsify news to defame Egypt, Greste, a foreign correspondent for al-Jazeera English, his bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy and producer Baher Mohamed, will learn of the court’s verdict on Monday night Australian time.

Follow our live coverage of proceedings here.

After six bleak months in an Egyptian prison and 12 court sessions in which the prosecution’s case has veered from the farcical to the irrelevant, it is judgment day for Australian journalist Peter Greste and his colleagues, writes Fairfax's Middle East correspondent Ruth Pollard.

Facing a sentence of seven to 15 years for conspiring with the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood to falsify news to defame Egypt, Greste, a foreign correspondent for al-Jazeera English, his bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy and producer Baher Mohamed, will learn of the court’s verdict on Monday evening Australian time.

Read Ruth's full preview here.

In a case that has drawn condemnation from human rights groups and press freedom organisations around the world, Greste and his two al-Jazeera colleagues have been swept up in Egypt’s ruthless security operation against the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters.

The country’s controversial anti-protest law has seen as many as 41,000 people jailed in just 10 months, with hundreds sentenced to death.

Greste and his colleagues are accused of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to defame Egypt through their reporting.

Just four days before their arrest, the Egyptian Government announced it considered the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation. Six months earlier, the Brotherhood was the government in Egypt.

"We had been doing exactly as any responsible, professional journalist would – recording and trying to make sense of the unfolding events with all the accuracy, fairness and balance that our imperfect trade demands," Greste wrote in a letter back in January.

"We were not alone in our reporting, but our arrest has served as a chilling warning to others … Anyone who applauds the state is seen as safe and deserving of liberty. Anything else is a threat that needs to be crushed."

It is difficult to know what time the court's verdict will be handed down. Proceeding are due to start at 5pm Australian time, however this case is prone to courtroom delays.

Please keep checking in, as we will be sure to update the blog as the action unfolds.

Australian politicians have stood in solidarity in their support for Greste and his colleagues, with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten saying there's "no daylight" between Labor and Liberals on the issue.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says she has been in talks with Egypt's new Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri. "I hope we will be able to get Peter Greste home as soon as possible," she told the Press Gallery last week.

Speaking in Parliament to support Peter Greste. We are all hoping for his release today. http://t.co/GyXqXYNgIr#auspol — Tanya Plibersek (@tanya_plibersek) June 23, 2014

The nightmare began on December 29, when Greste and Fahmy were arrested in a late night raid on Jazeera’s makeshift offices in Cairo. Mohamed was arrested in his home nearby.

They have since spent 177 days in a 3x4m cell, locked down for 23 hours each day, and have been denied access to reading materials and adequate medical treatment for extended periods of their incarceration.

Fairfax's Middle East correspondent Ruth Pollard will be tweeting live from the Cairo courtroom. 

Media pack outside Tora Prison, waiting to go into court for #AJtrial verdict. #egypt#mediafreedompic.twitter.com/URqTYCREue — Ruth Pollard (@rpollard) June 23, 2014

Every journo I speak to feels sick with anxiety about today's #AJtrial verdict. So much solidarity for @PeterGreste@Repent11@Bahrooz — Ruth Pollard (@rpollard) June 23, 2014

A powerful message on the back page of today's New York Times. @PeterGreste#FreeAJStaffpic.twitter.com/s70z4VAgsF — Tom Forbes (@tomforbes72) June 22, 2014

#AJtrial: As ever, there are 2 tanks outside the prison in which @Bahrooz@Repent11 & @PeterGreste are held pic.twitter.com/mIVNfhOVRX — Patrick Kingsley (@PatrickKingsley) June 23, 2014

We're in court now and the media is slowly filtering in. Still awaiting arrival of defendants. 5 Ambassadors also making representation!! — Peter Greste (@PeterGreste) June 23, 2014

Defendants have arrived. Families waving. #ajtrialpic.twitter.com/LxgDtoyhDz — Hayden Cooper (@haydencooper) June 23, 2014

Both @PeterGreste's brothers - @AndyroosteG and Michael - here for the verdict #AJtrial#Egypt ... — Ruth Pollard (@rpollard) June 23, 2014

Huge media pack in court - biggest so far - could not be more tense in here #AJtrial#Egypt — Ruth Pollard (@rpollard) June 23, 2014

Defendants will be mentioned as numbers only, not names - @PeterGreste is 17, @Repent11 is 6 and @Bahrooz is 7. Court now doing roll call. — Ruth Pollard (@rpollard) June 23, 2014

“Of course I worry about it,” Michael Greste says of the thought that #AJtrial verdict may not be acquittal. “It is terrifying." — Ruth Pollard (@rpollard) June 23, 2014

Jazeera journos are 3 people out of 1000s detained in #Egypt. One rights group estimates over 40,000 are in jail after security crackdown. — Ruth Pollard (@rpollard) June 23, 2014

Now seated at front of cage, @petergreste waits. #ajtrialpic.twitter.com/mVt8566TFZ — Hayden Cooper (@haydencooper) June 23, 2014

Caged for doing their job #FreeAJStaff#journalismisnotacrimepic.twitter.com/5kw0RLMPj0 — Hayley (@HayleyScottie) June 23, 2014

Judge Mohamed Nagi Shehata is one-and-a-half hours late to court. But journalists who have been covering the trial say they aren't too surprised by this ...

#AJtrial: judge Mohamed Nagi Shehata terribly late for 13th session. Unusual of him! — Wael Hussein (@waol) June 23, 2014

We're all standing, judge arrives. #AJtrial — Ruth Pollard (@rpollard) June 23, 2014

Fahmy and Greste hugging in the cage as they await the verdict. #AJtrial — Louisa Loveluck (@leloveluck) June 23, 2014

#Ajtrial: Judge Mohamed Nagy Shehata has finally arrived with his 2 assistants. pic.twitter.com/Hq06FWy80K — Patrick Kingsley (@PatrickKingsley) June 23, 2014

Total silence in the court ... tension so thick you could slice it. #AJtrial — Ruth Pollard (@rpollard) June 23, 2014

Judge is reading the names of those defendants being tried in absentia #AJtrial - these include 3 international journos. — Ruth Pollard (@rpollard) June 23, 2014

Journalists present at the al-Jazeera trial say today is the biggest turnout of diplomats and journalists they have seen so far.

Panorama of the courtroom #AJTrialpic.twitter.com/pjiIu8wqsi — Kate Benyon-Tinker (@katebt3000) June 23, 2014

"Where's John Kerry" @Repent11 says from the defendant's cage. )The US Secretary of State was in #Egypt yesterday to meet Pres al-Sisi). — Ruth Pollard (@rpollard) June 23, 2014

That's @repent11 up against the cage. Strong as ever. #ajtrialpic.twitter.com/9Y3JmcFrGB — Hayden Cooper (@haydencooper) June 23, 2014

Still waiting at #AJtrial for the judge to arrive. Defendants are in the cage & ready, lawyers are here, security is huge, media is restless — Ruth Pollard (@rpollard) June 23, 2014

#AJtrial has been condemned the world over, criticised for attacking #mediafreedom & punishing journos for doing their jobs #Egypt — Ruth Pollard (@rpollard) June 23, 2014

Greste's family have been in the media spotlight since the December arrest. His parents, Lois and Juris Greste say their son must be released because there has been "no evidence presented against him".

His brothers Andrew and Michael are in the Cairo courtroom today.

If this all seems a little confusing, do not fret. Ruth Pollard has put together a timeline detailing Egypt's "dangerous year" and the events that led to the al-Jazeera journalists' arrest.

June 30: Mass public protests across Egypt call for the resignation of the Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Mursi, who was elected in July 2012.

July 3: The army, led by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, force Mursi to stand down, arresting him and taking him to an undisclosed location. He is now facing charges that attract the death penalty.

July 3: The offices of al-Jazeera Mubasher, the local Egyptian channel, are raided by Egyptian security police.

August 14: After weeks of mass protests and demonstrations from supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Mursi, the Egyptian Army forcibly disperses a protest camp at Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque. More than 1000 people are killed and many more arrested.

August 14: A state of emergency is declared across Egypt, with a strict night time curfew enforced.

August-September: A series of senior and low level Muslim Brotherhood leaders are arrested. Thousands of protesters rounded up on the streets.

October 30: Police arrest senior Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam El-Erian, who had been in hiding since August 14.

November 13: The government declares an end to the state of emergency.

December 25: The interim, military-backed Egyptian Government declares the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organisation.

December 29: Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed are arrested.

January 29: The three journalists, along with 17 others, are formally charged with colluding with the Muslim Brotherhood to produce false news to smear Egypt’s reputation internationally.

February 21: First hearing - the journalists are denied bail, kept in their 3X4m cell in Tora Prison for 23 hours a day. There have been 12 court sessions since.

June 23: Verdict announced.

#Ajtrial: The judge has unexpectedly taking his sunglasses off. Unusual for him. pic.twitter.com/sPTzHYt41K — Patrick Kingsley (@PatrickKingsley) June 23, 2014

Seems the defendants tried in absentia have been sentenced to 10 years #AJtrial — Ruth Pollard (@rpollard) June 23, 2014

Seven years for all three defendants #AJtrial — Ruth Pollard (@rpollard) June 23, 2014

Greste and Fahmy sentenced to 7 years prison, Baher Mohamed to 3 years. Court is going crazy. Some people in tears. #AJtrial — Ruth Pollard (@rpollard) June 23, 2014

Peter Greste hits the cage — Christian Fraser (@ForeignCorresp) June 23, 2014

Correction: Baher Mohamed got 10 years - an extra three years for possessing a bullett. #AJTrial — Ruth Pollard (@rpollard) June 23, 2014

Journos taken from the defendant's cage. Grim, grim faces here. Utterly devastating. #AJTrial — Ruth Pollard (@rpollard) June 23, 2014

My blood just ran cold. My AJE colleagues have been jailed for years in Egypt. For doing their jobs as any of us would have. Horrifying. — Harry Fawcett (@harryjfawcett) June 23, 2014

Greste family white-faced, diplomats standing at the front of the court talking quietly as pandemonium swirls around them. #AJTrial — Ruth Pollard (@rpollard) June 23, 2014

Mohamed Fahmy draggrd from the courtroom cage screaming: "They will pay for this". His fiancée sobs as he leaves. #AJtrial — Louisa Loveluck (@leloveluck) June 23, 2014

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance has condemned the verdict, saying:

"The verdict of the court, despite the lack of evidence and bizarre court proceedings over more than a dozen hearings, is an appalling attack on press freedom and carries an implicit threat to all media working in Egypt".

Full statement here.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is set to hold a press conference on the verdict in five minutes.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Greens Leader Christine Milne and the Greste family's local MP Jane Prentice, among other politicians, have already begun sharing their thoughts via Twitter.

Awful news about Peter Greste – journalists should not be jailed for doing their job #FreeAJStaff — Bill Shorten (@billshortenmp) June 23, 2014

Thoughts with @PeterGreste and family. A shocking show trial. @tonyabbottmhr must intervene with President — Christine Milne (@senatormilne) June 23, 2014

Justice denied. #AJTrial#FreeAJStaff#Greste — Jane Prentice MP (@JanePrentice_MP) June 23, 2014

Julie Bishop: "The Australian government is shocked at the verdict in the Peter Greste case. We are deeply dismayed by the fact that a sentence has been imposed and we are appalled by the severity of it."

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is "bitterly disappointed with the outcome" and says the government plans to initiate contact with the Egyptian government in hopes intervening.

"Peter Greste is a well-respected Australian journalist, he was in Egypt to report on the political situation, he was not there to support the Muslim Brotherhood," Julie Bishop said.

"We will now initiate contact with the highest levels of the Egyptian government to see whether we can gain some kind of intervention from the new government and find out whether intervention is indeed possible at this stage."

"Freedom and freedom of the press is fundamental to a democracy and we are deeply concerned that this verdict is part of a broader attempt to muzzle the media freedom that upholds democracies around the world."

"We are all shocked by this verdict, and that includes the prime minister," she said.

Full transcript of Julie Bishop's statement on Peter Greste:

"The Australian government is shocked at the verdict in the Peter Greste case. We are deeply dismayed by the fact that a sentence as been imposed. We are appalled by the severity of it. 

"It is hard to credit that court in this case could have reached this conclusion.

"The Australian government simply can not understand it based on the evidence presented in this case.

"Peter Greste is a respected Australian journalist, he was not there to support the Muslim brotherhood

"We respect the outcome of the recent elections in Egypt and will now initiate contact at the highest levels in the new Egyptian government to see whether we can gain some kind of intervention from the new government.

"I have spoken at length with Peter Greste’s parents. They are considering their legal options, including appeal options.

"We do not know how long an appeal process will take, but in the meantime, we will provide whatever consular assistance we can.

"We understand there have been some very difficult times and there has been a great deal of turmoil in Egypt. But this kind of verdict does nothing for Egypt’s claim to be transitioning to democracy.

"The Australia government urges Egypt to reflect on what message is being sent to the world.

"We are deeply concerned that this verdict is part of a broader attempt to muzzle the press freedom that upholds democracies around the world. 

"I can not think what more we could have done. I am bitterly disappointed by the outcome."

Al-Jazeera has called for the verdict to be overturned.

"There is no justification whatsoever in the detention of our three colleagues for even one minute. To have detained them for 177 Days is an outrage. To have sentenced them defies logic, sense, and any semblance of justice," managing director Al Anstey said.

.@PeterGreste family here at court say they will consider all the options and try to regroup #AJTrialpic.twitter.com/oTjw99D6o5 — Kate Benyon-Tinker (@katebt3000) June 23, 2014

Mother of @Repent11 just came out if court crying "what did they do??" #AJTrialpic.twitter.com/HDT9nSn2sU — Claire Read (@clear_red) June 23, 2014

"On the basis of the evidence we have see I do not understand this verdict". Australian Ambassador to #Egypt Dr Ralph King #AJTrial — Ruth Pollard (@rpollard) June 23, 2014

The hashtags #PeterGreste, #Sentenced7, #FreeAJstaff and #Egypt are all trending in Australia as social media erupts with commentary from journalists, politicians and citizens from around the world.

Many of these posts are accompanied by the slogan "journalism is not a crime".

Appalling, shocking decision in case of #PeterGreste and colleagues. Attempts to intimidate journalists never work #Egypt#AJTrial — Ben Doherty (@BenDohertyCorro) June 23, 2014

Outraged over the sentencing of @Bahrooz@Repent11@PeterGreste after a farcical trial. #FreeAJStaff#journalismisnotacrime — Fauziah Ibrahim (@fauziah_ibrahim) June 23, 2014

Among the commentary are numerous calls for Prime Minister Tony Abbott to intervene.

Huge pressure on Abbott Govt's next move in trying to free @PeterGreste Its clear now PM's phone call to al-Sisi had no impact at all! — Dan Nolan (@Dan_Nolan9) June 23, 2014

Police kicking out journalists and removing cameras by force outside #AJtrial court after sentencing @PeterGreste, @Repent11, @Bahrooz. — Amir Makar (@makartwo) June 23, 2014

Fairfax Media understands that the Abbott government regards a presidential pardon as the most hopeful chance of securing Mr Greste's release.

So in #Egypt, #journalism is a crime, free speech is a worthless ideal & the media will be punished #AJtrial#mediafreedom — Ruth Pollard (@rpollard) June 23, 2014

Worst part is #Greste family had such hope. Literally champagne on ice. Then such devastation. Full story tomoro nite 8pm @ForeignOfficial — Sophie McNeill (@Sophiemcneill) June 23, 2014

The US gave Egypt $570 million yesterday. Today Egypt unfairly jailed 3 @AJEnglish journalists, including Aussie @PeterGreste#FreeAJStaff — Hamish Macdonald (@hamishNews) June 23, 2014

Greste family tells @ForeignOfficial they are shocked, absolutely devastated. 'What for, what for?' cries his elderly parents #AJTrial — Sophie McNeill (@Sophiemcneill) June 23, 2014

Video of the court's reaction as the verdict was read out.

Social media has been inundated with posts objecting the Egyptian court's ruling, as Peter Greste is sentenced to seven years behind bars.

Reason journalists feel so strongly about #AJTrial in Egypt is we all know this could be any one of us. #journalismisnotacrime#FreeAJStaff — Hamish Macdonald (@hamishNews) June 23, 2014

Australia must protest in the strongest way. We should all rise up against the 7 year's jail given to @PeterGreste#FreeAJStaff — Jo McManus (@jofmcmanus) June 23, 2014

Absolutely gutted and disgusted by @PeterGreste and AJ staff sentences. Journalism is NOT a crime. #FreeAJStaff — Alina Eacott (@AlinaEacott) June 23, 2014

Peter Greste’s parents Lois and Juris were watching the verdict via social media.

A family friend described their reaction as "devastated", crying out "What for? What for?" as they learned of their son's fate.

They plan to speak to the media at 10am on Tuesday.

This story Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste learns fate in Egyptian court first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.