Less than two months after Australian journalist Peter Greste was jailed in Egypt, his brother Andrew Greste spoke at a small conference at the University of Technology Sydney.
Between the lawyers, and the academics, and the suited-up members of various conservative think tanks – the event was a free speech symposium hosted by Tim Wilson – Andrew took to the stage and made a simple case.
“We believe in [Peter’s] innocence, he has no axe to grind or political agenda to push… you don’t have to take my word for it, comb through his work and you’ll find that it’s true,” he said.
The Greste family must have been through hell since Peter was arrested in December 2013, then convicted of spreading “false and misleading news” and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood by an Egyptian court mid-2014.
As Andrew said in August, they were not people familiar with the backroom diplomacy and international realpolitik, which they were eventually forced to comprehend and then navigate in the pursuit of Peter’s freedom.
Yet as Mark Colvin wrote in The Guardian, “They’ve behaved with such dignity and intelligence, and while they could easily have been forgiven for venting more emotion than they have, were never hysterical. Instead they argued on the facts and logic, and on the justice of the case.”
That was certainly how Andrew Greste held the stage at Wilson’s free speech symposium, an event that had forced him to cancel his previous engagement for the day, a cotton conference.
On a similar platform, to a not dissimilar crowd, Tony Abbott yesterday expressed his relief at the release of Peter Greste.
But there was a jarring discord in the rest of the PM’s speech. He may have indeed felt a “personal delight” at Greste’s renewed freedom, but his own government has been responsible for a crackdown on press freedoms more generally, and as he moved on to warnings about a new age of terror he laid the groundwork for yet more intrusive and draconian legislation.
Put most simply, this government is committing a sin so clearly exhibited by the al-Sisi regime: it is using the prospect of terror to ease the public towards acquiescing to laws that jail journalists, and help monitor their communications.
As a result, journalists can now be jailed for 10 years for “recklessly” revealing any ASIO assignment the Attorney-General defines as a ‘special operation’. As with so much of the law relevant to journalists in this country, there is no public interest exemption.
At New Matilda, we welcome the release of Peter Greste wholeheartedly, offer our best wishes to his family and our thanks to any member of government or diplomat who helped free an unjustly imprisoned Australian journalist. We also hope to see the speedy release of Greste’s colleagues who remain behind Egyptian bars.
But we also note that if members of the current Australian Government and Opposition are truly committed to the principles which make these releases righteous, they will eventually need to find a voice against the laws they helped to pass.
If they don’t, it will only be a matter of time before another family is forced to endure what the Grestes have, with a Sydney courtroom as the setting.
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