Today the Egyptian courts will hand down a verdict in the case of detained Australian journalist, Peter Greste, and his Al Jazeera-English colleagues, who have been through nearly six months of imprisonment and 12 hearings. For Peter, his family, his colleagues and his supporters, this has been six months of uncertainty and anxiety. Peter Greste and his two colleagues, Cairo bureau chief Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and producer Baher Mohamed, were detained by Egyptian authorities last December, charged with 'airing misleading news' about Egypt's political situation. They have been repeatedly denied bail and their case has been repeatedly adjourned. If convicted, the three face between three years and life in prison, and the prosecution has been asking for a sentence of 15 years.
Amnesty International has said that all three men are prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of the right to free expression. The case of Peter Greste and his Al Jazeera colleagues has reminded us just how critical press freedom is and how lucky we are here in Australia to have genuine freedom of the press, a fact I am very proud of as a member of the MEAA.
Peter Greste left Australia in 1991 to pursue his dream of becoming a foreign correspondent. Since then, he has covered Afghanistan, Central Asia, the Balkans, Iraq, Latin America and now Africa, where he has lived for the last nine years. I note that, in the last 48 hours, the Abbott government has stepped up its diplomatic efforts. I commend them for that. I also commend the tireless efforts of our diplomatic officials in Cairo. Today, my thoughts and prayers are with Peter and his family and his two Al Jazeera colleagues and their families.