New aims for press freedoms

By | News & Politics
Peter Greste meeting small-scale livestock farmers in Nairobi, 21st September 2012. Credit@ILRI via Flickr.

Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste has been freed and has left Egypt and flown to Cyprus, after being held for 400 days. The Australian correspondent was held and tried on charges of spreading fabricated news and aiding the Muslim Brotherhood. In a statement following his release Peter Greste’s brother said: “We’re ecstatic that Peter has been released and we now ask if the world could respect his privacy, to give him time to appreciate his freedom before he faces the media.”

Greste was detained with two Al-Jazeera colleagues; Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed. Throughout the trial all three maintained that they were simply reporting the news and that their trial was biased.

Attention has now turned to Mr Greste’s colleagues as Mohamed Fahmy may be freed on the condition that he relinquishes his Egyptian citizenship and goes to Canada, where he holds dual citizenship. The status of Baher Mohamed is more complex as he is a sole Egyptian citizen. While welcoming the news of Peter Greste’s release, Al Jazeera has expressed a demand for the release of Mr Fahmy and Mr Mohamed.

The journalists were first held by Egyptian police in December 2013 and were sentenced in June 2014 of aiding the prohibited Muslim Brotherhood organization. Many human rights groups and other journalists have highlighted alleged issues with the trial, which may be evident in the actions of an appeals judge who called for a retrial. It may appear that the Egyptian government has taken issue with Al-Jazeera due to the channel’s owner, the state of Qatar, providing financial support to the Muslim Brotherhood. Acting Director-General of Al-Jazeera media network, Mostefa Souag, made a statement saying, “we’re pleased for Peter and his family that they are to be reunited.” Furthermore, regarding the situation with Mr Fahmy and Mr Mohamed and their possible release he said, “the Egyptian authorities have it in their power to finish this properly today, and that is exactly what they must do.”

Recent events at the magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris have highlighted the role of the press and freedom of expression. This may also be seen to incorporate the press’ freedom to report and Peter Greste’s release may be an important part of protecting journalists abroad. Peter Greste described his release as a “step forward” for the Egyptian authorities and that he wants Egypt to continue down this route with his colleagues. The freedom of the press can be seen to increase accountability within governments and to increase public awareness. Therefore it might be seen that a free press is actually important across the world in providing to people different viewpoints and the exposure to events.

The release of Peter Greste may be used as an opportunity to express ideas on possible ways to safeguard the press and their freedom to report on a global scale. By releasing Mr Greste, the Egyptian government appears willing to improve the relations it holds with press outlets, which may result in the release of other journalists being held and the allowance of journalists to be able to report from different countries – free from interference of political regimes.

The outlook for Mr Greste’s colleagues, Mr Fahmy and Mr Mohamed, balances upon the decision of the Egyptian government. Whilst there are reports that Mr Fahmy may be freed upon the condition of his relocation to Canada there are still questions regarding Mr Mohamed’s situation. Al-Jazeera and Peter Greste appear determined to try and provide his colleagues with help in campaigning for their release. Mr Greste, when speaking about his colleagues, stated “if it’s right for me to be free then it’s right for all of them to be free.”

How might the release of Peter Greste strengthen press freedoms in the Middle East and around the world?

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