Australia optimistic that Egypt will release Aussie journalist jailed for defamation

Australian journalist Peter Greste (3rd right) of Al-Jazeera and his colleagues stand inside the defendants cage during their trial for allegedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood at Cairo's Tora prison on March 5, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Australian journalist Peter Greste (3rd right) of Al-Jazeera and his colleagues stand inside the defendants cage during their trial for allegedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood at Cairo's Tora prison on March 5, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Wednesday she is optimistic that Egypt may release jailed Australian journalist Peter Greste within days.

Greste and two Al-Jazeera colleagues - Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed - were sentenced in June to seven years' jail for defaming Egypt and aiding banned Islamists. The case sparked a global outcry and demands for a presidential pardon amid claims the trial was politically motivated.

Ms Bishop said she spoke with Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry this week to argue the case for Greste to be released for Christmas. "He said it was under consideration so we are hoping that our representations will result in a release for Peter Greste," she told Channel Seven television. "We've got our fingers crossed but we don't know yet whether we have secured this but I'm hopeful, I'm optimistic."

An Egyptian court is scheduled to hear on Jan 1 an appeal by the three journalists against their conviction. "It would be very exciting if there were some steps taken before then. I'm just mildly, mildly optimistic," Ms Bishop said.

Greste has been in custody since Dec 29 last year and he has written a letter to his supporters as the anniversary looms.

In the letter, he said he felt proud at what had been achieved so far in galvanising political debate about the right to a free press and the persecution of journalists in Egypt.

"We have galvanised an incredible coalition of political, diplomatic and media figures, as well as a vast army of social media supporters for that most basic of rights - the right to know," Greste said.

"Never has cleared-eyed, critical, sceptical journalism been more necessary to help make sense of a world overloaded with information."

Egypt President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said earlier this year he could not consider a plea of clemency or a pardon until all legal proceedings have been concluded, and that included an appeal.