GARY ADSHEAD: Let’s talk now with Julie Bishop the Foreign Minister, she embarks on the very delicate job of protesting to the Egyptian Government about keeping the lines of communication open. Thanks very much for joining us this morning Minister.
JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.
GARY ADSHEAD: Obviously you do have a history as a defamation lawyer as well. This seems an extraordinary case involving this journalist. Is it a hopeless situation though, from the Government’s point of view?
JULIE BISHOP: We are certainly utterly dismayed and appalled that Peter Greste has been convicted and that such a severe custodial sentence - seven years - has been imposed. Because on the basis of the evidence that we’ve seen and the evidence that was presented against him, we simply do not understand the verdict. I cannot see how a court could have come to the conclusion it did.
We haven’t yet seen the reasons for judgement, they will be provided in due course, I understand to Mr Greste’s lawyers, so maybe we’ll have a better insight into how and why this decision was made, but we are certainly going to continue our high level representations. The Australian Government will shortly lodge a formal diplomatic level request to the new Egyptian President to see if he can intervene early to secure the release of Mr Greste, but I know that the Greste family are considering their legal options, including an appeal against the verdict.
GARY ADSHEAD: How delicate is it, from a diplomatic point of view? You obviously can’t offend their judicial system, but then again you can see no reason for this.
JULIE BISHOP: Well it is a very sensitive area. This is a new Government that has just been elected in the democratic elections. The new Government claims that it is on the path to democracy and we support that and want to be seen to be supporting Egypt, but it makes it very hard to accept Egypt’s claim that it’s on a transition to democracy when journalists - foreign journalists - are jailed for doing their job and we are urging the new government of Egypt to reflect on what message is being sent to the world about the situation in Egypt.
There’s been an outpouring of sentiment and outrage from governments across the world, from the United Nations, European Union because freedom of the press is fundamental to a democracy and we’re deeply concerned that this verdict might be part of a broader attempt to muzzle the media freedom that upholds democracies around the world.
GARY ADSHEAD: You’re obviously looking at a number of options, is one of them the International Court of Justice in The Hague?
JULIE BISHOP: We are considering whatever options are available to us. That is something that I know Geoffrey Robertson, the eminent lawyer has raised. At this point we are making representations to the political authorities in Egypt. I’ve requested our Ambassador in Cairo to seek a further contact for me with the Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry - I spoke to him over the weekend - he’s currently travelling out of Egypt but I want to again register Australia’s strong concerns at this outcome.
We are also calling in the Deputy Egyptian Ambassador whose residence is here in Canberra - the actual Ambassador is in Cairo - so we’re calling in the Deputy here in Canberra to make it clear that we are appalled by this decision and that we want to see an early intervention if possible.
Of course I spoke to Peter Greste’s parents last night - Juris and Lois Greste - and conveyed to them our shock and dismay at the penalty and to reassure the family that the Australian Government will continue to provide high level and direct representations to the Egyptian Government.
We have called on other governments - and we’ve been doing this for many months now - called on other governments who might be closer to the Egyptian Government or have more leverage with the Egyptian Government, to register their concerns about the jailing of a journalist who was just doing his job.
GARY ADSHEAD: Is it the sentence, or the fact that he was convicted in the first place that has really shocked and horrified the family, the length of sentence?
JULIE BISHOP: Well had he been convicted and then expelled from the country, well we would have been pleased to get him home, it’s the fact that it’s a conviction coupled with such a severe custodial sentence that has really shocked us.
GARY ADSHEAD: Okay, now do you get briefings, do you know what sort of conditions he’s in?
JULIE BISHOP: Yes…..
GARY ADSHEAD: Inside that prison? I mean what sort of….is his routine?
JULIE BISHOP: Well we have regular consular visits with him and that’s why I’m keen for our Ambassador to remain in Cairo so that he can continue to have these consular visits and we have been able to improve his conditions somewhat by getting more amenities and getting further comforts such as they are to him, but it’s a pretty grim situation. He’s in jail in Cairo, he’s in a cell with the other Al Jazeera journalists.
do point out that there’s a limit to what we can do,but we can most certainly make consular representations to improve the conditions that he’s under and we - I think we’ve had about 23 consular visits to him - and we’ve also attended each one of the court hearings and there’s been 13 hearings including yesterday’s verdict.
So our Australian consular officials are very dedicated, they’re very professional, very competent and they are ensuring that they’re providing him whatever assistance we can and likewise, providing practical to support to his family and I certainly commend the work that our dedicated officials have been doing in this case.
GARY ADSHEAD: What would you say to people that would argue, okay kick out their Ambassador from Australia.
JULIE BISHOP: I want to maintain our Ambassador in Cairo. So if we throw out their Ambassador then they would retaliate and throw out ours, that’s the way it works and I believe that Dr King should remain in Cairo so that he can continue to provide consular support to Peter Greste, so that he can continue to make personal face-to-face representations with the new government in Cairo.
At this stage I don’t see any benefit to Peter Greste at all by removing our Ambassador and we’ve got to work with this new government, it’s been democratically elected, it maintains it’s on the path to democracy. We have to do what we can with the new government to see if we can secure Peter Greste’s return home.
GARY ADSHEAD: Thanks for joining us this morning.
JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.
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