The Australian government will seek to make contact with the Egyptian president in its bid to free jailed journalist Peter Greste.
Australia will go straight to the top of the Egyptian government in a bid to free jailed journalist Peter Greste.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the government is shocked by the seven-year jail sentences handed to the Al Jazeera English reporter and his two colleagues on terrorism-related charges on Monday.
“The Australian government simply cannot understand it based on the evidence that was presented,” Ms Bishop said.
“We are deeply dismayed that a sentence has been imposed and appalled at the severity of it.”
While Greste’s family and lawyers consider lodging an appeal, the federal government plans to seek his earliest possible release.
“I want to see if there is a possibility for us to initiate a contact with the president to see if there can be an earlier intervention,” Ms Bishop said.
She said Greste had fallen victim to being “in the wrong place at the wrong time”.
“He was in Egypt to report on the political situation,” and not to support the outlawed Muslim brotherhood as the court found, Ms Bishop told reporters.
As a final hope, a presidential pardon is possible at the conclusion of an appeal process, she added.
In chaotic scenes in the Cairo courtroom, Greste and his colleagues, Canadian-Egyptian Mohammed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohammed were dismayed and angry as they were quickly whisked away from the mesh cages in which they were restrained in the courtroom.
Greste’s brothers Andrew and Mike were left stunned in the courtroom, while Ms Bishop spoke to his parents Juris and Lois in Brisbane minutes after the verdict was handed down and said they were devastated.
“We’re not going to give up the fight to get Peter released because we believe he’s completely innocent, he’s done nothing wrong,” Andrew told the ABC.
“It’s just going to be a matter of looking at all the options.”
An appeal could be one of those options, but the family will spend the next few days discussing their options with lawyers and the Australian government.
Andrew said he and Mike could not see their brother after the verdict but will visit him on Tuesday.
The Australian government had done all it could to support Greste throughout the court proceedings, Ms Bishop said, including a call from prime minister Tony Abbott to Egypt’s new president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi over the weekend.
Mr Abbott said earlier on Monday the president understood Australia’s position.
“I think he understands that this would be a PR coup for the new government if Peter Greste is not dealt with severely,” he said.
The court ruling has prompted public calls in Australia for Egypt’s Canberra-based ambassador to be ejected.
Ms Bishop confirmed that ambassador Hassan El-Laithy would meet with diplomatic officials on Tuesday.
She refused to comment on the fairness of the Egyptian judicial system, but added that such verdicts do “nothing to support Egypt’s claim to be on a transition to democracy”.
Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed had been detained since a December raid on their Cairo hotel room, which they were using as an office as they covered protests by supporters of the ousted Islamist president.
They were charged with supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been declared a terrorist organisation.
They had pleaded innocent, saying they were simply doing their jobs as journalists.
The head of Al Jazeera English says the sentencing of three colleagues defies logic, sense and any semblance of justice.
“Not a shred of evidence was found to support the extraordinary and false charges against them,” managing director Al Anstey said in a statement, while Human Rights Watch says the verdict was a stark admission that practising journalism in Egypt was a crime.
Footage of Juris and Lois Greste learning news of their son’s jailing later emerged showing an emotional reaction.
“That’s crazy, that’s crazy, that’s absolutely crazy,” Mr Greste says as he stands and walks away from the computer that delivered the news, becoming visibly upset.
Wife Lois clenches her fist against her chest as she asks the ABC camera to “finish”.
“Seven years … my God,” she says, turning away.
The couple has been vocal throughout their son’s detainment, hosting numerous press conferences and drumming up strong domestic support for their son who has spent most of his career reporting overseas.