The Australian journalist Peter Greste has called on Egyptâ€™s President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to pardon him and his imprisoned colleagues after a shock court ruling on Saturday found them guilty of terrorism charges and sentenced them to three years in jail.
He said the convictions of him, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, who worked with him on al-Jazeera reports, struck at the heart of the rule of law, and called on governments around the world to continue to fight for the imprisoned journalistsâ€™ release. The three men were detained in December 2013, accused of broadcasting false reports and colluding with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Fahmy and Mohamed have remained in custody in Egypt throughout their 20-month legal battle. Greste was convicted in absentia after Sisi deported him in February and is now in Australia.
Speaking at a press conference in Sydney on Sunday morning Greste condemned the conviction and said it was an extraordinary injustice against Fahmy and Mohamed, who are likely to now be placed in solitary confinement for several weeks.
â€œIâ€™m absolutely devastated â€“ sickened, frankly â€“ by the verdict that was handed down in Egypt last night,â€ he said. â€œThis is an injustice, this is a form of suffering that they and their families are having to go through.
â€œThere was never any evidence that the court presented, that the prosecution presented, either in the first trial or the second to confirm any of the allegations against us. And in fact Iâ€™d like to publicly challenge the prosecutor to present evidence of anything that we produced that was falsified.â€
Sisi had promised to pardon the journalists in the event they were convicted of terrorism offences and Greste called on him to live up to that commitment.
â€œPresident Sisi now has an opportunity to undo that injustice, to correct that injustice,â€ he said. â€œThe eyes of the world are upon Egypt. The eyes of the world will be watching this trial, in particular to see Egyptâ€™s commitment to these principles.
â€œIt is now up to President Sisi to do what he said he would do, and that is pardon us if we were ever convicted.â€
Gresteâ€™s deportation â€“ though greeted with jubilation by supporters â€“ meant he was unable to defend himself in court. He is seeking advice from his legal team on avenues of appeal.
â€œThis for me is a matter of natural justice,â€ he said. â€œAs you all know I was removed from the country on the order of the Egyptian president. I was not in Egypt, not because I was on the run, but because I was taken out of the country under Egyptian law, in accordance with Egyptian law, and yet I was placed on trial.
â€œIn doing so I was denied the most fundamental principle of law, and that is the right of an accused person to defend themselves. That alone ought to be enough to have my conviction tossed out.â€
Greste said he had received strong support from the Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, but called for continued pressure on Egypt from Britain, the US, Australia and other countries.
â€œIâ€™ve also spoken to foreign minister Julie Bishop, who has personally expressed her support, and said she will do everything in her power to use every diplomatic means available also to help support us and get this overturned,â€ he said.
â€œWe need more than just Julie Bishopâ€™s support and the Australian governmentâ€™s support. We need support from governments around the world, diplomats around the world, and indeed from everyone who has ever tweeted or supported or liked Facebook pages â€¦ to continue the fight. Because to give up now, frankly, would be a repudiation of everything weâ€™ve fought for.â€
Greste later told the Guardian it would difficult to see any circumstances in which he could return to Egypt.
â€œI was removed from the court on presidential order. I canâ€™t go back to Egypt without violating that order. I was removed in accordance with Egyptian law. Itâ€™s hard to see circumstances in which it would be appropriate for me to go back.
â€œWe need to talk to my lawyers in Egypt in more details about the options, that appeals process and what we can and canâ€™t do. You can be sure that weâ€™ll use every means available to us.â€
The British government is to hold talks with Egypt later this year. He said the British government needed to take every opportunity to fight for the release of journalists imprisoned in Egypt.
â€œIt makes it very difficult for the prime minister [David Cameron] to sit alongside President Sisi as an equal, as a democrat,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m not going to at this stage say that that meeting shouldnâ€™t take place, but I want the British government to use every opportunity and every second that it has with President Sisi to make it abundantly clear that this canâ€™t stand, and normal relations canâ€™t continue until they sort out some of these issues around the rule of law and freedom of the press.â€