Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi granted pardons to 100 people on Wednesday, including two jailed journalists from Al Jazeera—Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed. The two were initially arrested along with Australian journalist Peter Greste as part of a crackdown on Al Jazeera following the ouster of democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi in 2013 and served more than a year in prison. In a statement, Amnesty International said, "While these pardons come as a great relief, it is ludicrous that some of these people were even behind bars in the first place." Fahmy, Mohamed and Greste were initially sentenced to between seven and 10 years in prison for terrorism charges including "spreading false news" in support of the Muslim Brotherhood, deemed a "terrorist group" by the Egyptian government. While Fahmy and Mohamed have been pardoned, no pardon has been issued yet for Peter Greste, who has traveled to New York to lobby for a presidential pardon while el-Sisi is attending the United Nations General Assembly. We speak with Greste about the pardons of his colleagues as he continues to seek a pardon for himself.
Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste remembers his time in prison in Egypt, where the government held him for broadcasting false news. "Prison anywhere is pretty tough experience. And Egyptian prisons are never the easiest. I was in two police cells before we actually entered the prison system. And I think the police cells were probably some of the toughest experiences of my life. One cell was a box about eight-foot square, and it had a toilet in one corner and a sink in the other and a door and a tiny little exhaust fan in the corner. There were 16 guys in that box. It was unbelievably crowded. It was impossibly, impossibly crowded. And there were a couple of guys who had been in there for about six months, with almost no time out of that at all. It was quite shocking."Before his own imprisonment by the Egyptian government, Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste had reported on the refugee crisis around the world. He criticized his own Australian government for refusing press access to detention centers where refugees are being held. "They keep [asylum seekers] on islands away from the press. The press have been denied access to those areas. And I felt very, very strongly about this, that we’re not being denied access on national security grounds. It’s impossible, I think, to justify denying access to journalists to those detention centers, because in a democracy the government acts in our name, the government works for us, as voters, as taxpayers. And so, unless there is a very clear, very specific reason for denying us access on national security grounds—and I simply can’t see why there would be in the case of asylum seekers—then we need to know what is being done in our name.”
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