My colleague Peter Greste is finally free after 400 days in an Egyptian prison, but what happens next?

Egypt's crackdown on journalists isn't slowing down, and two Al-Jazeera journalists still remain in their grasp

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The Independent Online

His first words were typical Peter Greste. He rang my boss at Al-Jazeera, who thought it was Peter's brother Mike calling.

“It's not Mike. What's the one Australian voice you most want to hear?”

“Peter's!” she replied.

“It is Peter. I'm at the airport. I leave in an hour.” No histrionics, no fanfare or outpouring of emotion, just the facts. That's the measure of the man, the measure of the reporter.

The last time I had spoken to him was live on Al-Jazeera on Christmas Day 2013. I had left Egypt weeks earlier and was anchoring from the studio. He had drawn the short straw, and was reporting from Cairo over the festive period. So when the Egyptian authorities made the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation, Peter was our man on the ground explaining the ramifications.

If only we had realised that, four days later, the security services would be coming for him and his colleagues. He could have hightailed it out of Egypt. It was another 400 days before that happened.

When he was released on Sunday, he was given just half an hour to pack up what few possessions he had and say goodbye to Baher Mohamed, the other Al-Jazeera journalist with whom he had lived with for 400 days.

It's hard to imagine how Baher felt as Peter walked out, or how he is still feeling.

Our third musketeer, Mohamed Fahmy, hasn't shared a cell with Peter or Baher for months. A shoulder injury meant he was transferred to a hospital ward with slightly better conditions, and more frequent visits from family and lawyers.

 

So Baher is on his own to contemplate his future. His fate is now in the hands of the Egyptian judicial system, a system that convicted us all of terrorism charges without presenting a shred of evidence to prove we had done anything wrong. Can a retrial be fair and transparent?

Now I'm wondering if the western media will cover Baher’s retrial. Will they send correspondents to Cairo? Will they spend tight foreign budgets on an Egyptian defendant? Or will coverage be left to the Egyptian press, who have long been cowed by the authorities?

I refuse to undergo a retrial. Unless I hand myself into the Egyptian authorities, anyone convicted in absentia cannot have their case revisited. I have no plans to do that. I’m told there’s a lot of rape in Egyptian women’s prisons, and that's likely where I would be heading.

So my fate is in the hands of President Sisi, and the possibility of a pardon. It sticks in my throat. What am I being pardoned for? My reports on football violence, Cairo’s pollution, and a waning anti-coup movement? They weren’t my finest hour, but they didn’t break any laws.

I’ve been asked many times if Egypt has since eased off on that press crackdown. Perhaps one recent incident best answers that question.

The BBC's hugely respected correspondent, Orla Guerin, was reporting on the anniversary of the revolution just over a week ago. As she filmed the police searching for Muslim Brotherhood protestors a plain clothed policeman told her she would be shot if she carried on filming.

Journalists are increasingly being targeted across the world. Colleagues have been beheaded, jailed, intimidated, roughed up and threatened increasingly over the past year. Over 200 are currently in prison. Who is shouting for their release?

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past year it is that we need to band together for every single one of them. Press freedom has never been so important and never more under threat.

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