By Brian Rohan And Kristen Gelineau
Australian journalist Peter Greste gestures after his arrival in Brisbane, Australia, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.
CAIRO – Activists and family members of two al-Jazeera journalists imprisoned in Egypt eagerly awaited news on their status on Wednesday, after an Australian colleague of theirs returned home after a year in prison.
Peter Greste, 49, who was released on Sunday after 400 days behind bars in a case widely condemned as a sham by human rights activists, was greeted by friends and relieved family members who had tirelessly campaigned for his release.
But the fate of Greste’s still-jailed Egyptian colleagues remains unknown. Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohammed were arrested along with Greste in 2013 over their coverage of the violent crackdown on Islamist protests following the military overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi.
Egyptian authorities accused them of providing a platform for Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, now declared a terrorist organization, though officials never provided concrete evidence.
Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said this week that Fahmy’s release was imminent but gave no timeframe. Fahmy’s family said authorities required that he give up his Egyptian citizenship as a condition for his release.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi issued a decree last November granting him the power to deport foreign defendants convicted or accused of crimes.
However, Mohammed, 31, who received the longest sentence in the case — 10 years — has no second citizenship and his family worries that his fate as an Egyptian is less clear.
Married and a father of three, he lives in Cairo. He covered the 2011 Libyan uprising before joining Al-Jazeera as a producer, and his father was at one point the manager of the Muslim Brotherhood’s television channel, named January 25, which was launched after Egypt’s 2011 uprising.
Lawyer Mohammed Abdelaziz, director of the Cairo-based al-Haqanya legal centre, said Mohammed’s case is still pending in Egyptian courts.
“His situation is different because he only has Egyptian citizenship,” he said. “He is now awaiting proceedings with a different court, and his freedom depends on that case being finished.”
Activists and supporters have taken to social media to call for Mohammed’s release, with some urging a foreign country to issue him a passport that could even facilitate such freedom.
A Facebook page called Free Baher had over 12,000 ‘likes’ as of Wednesday night, attracting thousands of them soon after its creation.
In Australia, several time zones ahead, Greste landed in the Queensland state capital of Brisbane early Thursday morning after spending the past two days recuperating in Cyprus.
Supporters held up signs at the airport saying, “Journalism is not a crime.”
“I can’t tell you how ecstatic I am to be here,” Greste told reporters. “This is a moment I’ve rehearsed in my mind at least 400 times over the past, well, 400 days. But this is all tempered … by real worries for my colleagues.”
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott thanked the Egyptian president by telephone on Tuesday for his help in securing Greste’s release.
Commentary by the Ottawa Mens CentreThe Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was more than prepared to get involved in the Peter Greste and a host of other cases around the world however when it comes to