JULIE BISHOP: We are utterly dismayed and appalled that Peter Greste was convicted and such a severe custodial sentence has been imposed and on the basis of the evidence presented we just simply do not understand the verdict.
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.
I have requested our Ambassador in Cairo to seek a further telephone call with Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukri to register Australia’s strong concerns at this outcome. He is apparently travelling out of Egypt but I will seek to talk to him and I know that the Greste family are considering an appeal and taking legal advice on the options open to them in terms of the legal process.
PATRICK CONDREN: Do you know what legal options they have now?
JULIE BISHOP: I understand that there is an appeal procedure available and that they have a certain amount of time within which to lodge an appeal. I don’t know how long that process will take. But the reasons for the decision haven’t been provided yet. I understand the reasons are made available to the lawyers in due course. Once we’ve seen the reasons for the verdict we may be in a better position to see why or how such a verdict was reached.
PATRICK CONDREN: What leverage do you have or the Australian Government has to make the point to Egypt about this case?
JULIE BISHOP: We have been working with other governments, who are closer to Egypt than Australia is, governments in the region, in the Middle East. We’ve been working with the United States and our friends and partners around the world asking them to make representations on Australia’s behalf for Peter Greste in addition to the high level representations that we’ve been making.
I’ve spoken now to two different Foreign Ministers. The Prime Minister has spoken directly to Egyptian Presidents - the interim President and now the new President. We will continue to call on Egypt to prove that it is on a transition to democracy. We urge the new Government of Egypt to reflect on what message is being sent to the world about the situation in Egypt when journalists are being jailed for doing their job, that is reporting on the political activities of the day.
We’ve seen the outpouring of sentiment from governments around the world – from the United Nations, from the European Union, non-government organisations about freedom and freedom of the press because that is fundamental to a democracy and I’m deeply concerned that this verdict is part of a broader attempt to muzzle the media freedom that upholds democracies around the world.
PATRICK CONDREN: What has successive Egyptian Governments said to the Abbott Government?
JULIE BISHOP: From the outset they have said that this is an independent legal process. They draw the analogy to Australia to say you wouldn’t like it if there were an Egyptian in detention in Australia, charged under Australian laws, and Egyptian politicians were trying to interfere in that. I mean they make that point to me and have made that point on a number of occasions that this is an independent judicial process.
PATRICK CONDREN: So how do you as Foreign Minister respond to that then?
JULIE BISHOP: I told them that I respect Egypt’s attempts to transition to democracy and I respect the independence of the judiciary is the fundamental pillar of democracy.
However on the basis of the evidence presented we simply cannot understand how this verdict could have been reached and we’ll continue to press our case that Peter Greste had arrived in Egypt just a short time before he was detained, that he was working as a journalist, he was reporting on the Muslim Brotherhood – which of course had been the democratically elected Government. He was reporting on the Muslim Brotherhood, he was not supporting it and that he was doing his job and that he should not have been arrested nor detained and certainly not convicted and sentenced.
PATRICK CONDREN: Do you have any information in terms of the conditions that Mr Greste and his colleagues are being kept in?
JULIE BISHOP: Yes we have been visiting Peter Greste on a regular basis – that is our diplomats in Cairo – our ambassador Dr Ralph King has visited Peter on a number of occasions, many occasions and through his representations I understand that some improvements have been made to Peter’s conditions but they are certainly cramped, they are not ideal, he’s in detention, he’s in a jail in Cairo so we’ve been doing what we can to improve those conditions for him and provide him with assistance and we will continue to do so.
I made that point to Lois and Juris Greste, his parents, last evening. I rang them and spoke to them shortly after the verdict and said that we would continue to provide whatever consular support we could to Mr Greste and all practical support to his family and I do have to commend the work that our dedicated officials have been doing ever since Peter was detained in December last year.
PATRICK CONDREN: Ms Bishop, thank you for your time this morning.
JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.
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