Last night I met Australian journalist Peter Greste at the Sydney launch of the book Prison Post at Berkelouw bookshop. Prison Post is a collection of letters of support for Peter Greste received while he was in prison in Egpyt. A few weeks ago, I received an email from the publisher saying that my letter to Peter may be published. When I arrived at the launch I ran into my writing teacher Patti Miller who told me that my email had indeed been included in the book.
Peter Greste is now a free man, despite being sentenced last weekend in absentia by an Egyptian court who conducted his trial with no evidence. Unfortunately his Al Jazeera colleagues Egyptian-Canadian producer Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed are back in prison after a Cairo court sentenced the three journalists to three years in jail after finding them guilty of “aiding a terrorist organisation,” a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was outlawed in Egypt after the army overthrew President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. The verdict sparked worldwide outrage.
Peter Greste’s family campaigned tirelessly for his release. They set up an email account for messages of support they could print out to take him on their visits. Last night, Editia publisher Charlotte Harper spoke warmly about how the book came about, and Australian comedian and writer Wendy Harmer read funny letters to Peter that he had received from around the world. Then it was Peter Greste’s turn to speak. He told us that our letters had kept him going on very bleak days in his 400 days in prison. He spoke about how he saved the letters to read and how his brothers had told Peter during their visits that thousands of people from around the world were behind him. The letters kept Peter connected to the outside world.
While I’m thrilled to be included in this publication and I want everyone to buy it because the proceeds go to supporting people in prison around the world, we need to work to get Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed released from jail. Peter Greste last night urged us all to keep tweeting, using the hashtag #FreeAJstaff and also to pressure our local MPs to raise the case with the Egyptian government. Peter Greste is now a fugitive for a crime he didn’t commit. And we need to let his wrongly imprisoned journalist colleagues know we haven’t forgotten them. We can send emails to this address: email@example.com.
Journalists must be free to report on the world’s atrocities and joys. Living in Australia we take press freedom for granted. It is time we stood up and used our voices for good.