Freed Australian reporter Peter Greste says he is 'ecstatic' to be home

Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste is kissed by his mother Lois (left) and father Juris upon his arrival at Brisbane's international airport in the early hours of Feb 5, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste is kissed by his mother Lois (left) and father Juris upon his arrival at Brisbane's international airport in the early hours of Feb 5, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP

BRISBANE, Australia (AFP) - Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste arrived home in Australia on Thursday saying he had dreamt of returning to his family on each of the 400 days of his detention in Egypt.

"I can't tell you how ecstatic I am to be here," said the award-winning correspondent who was deported on Sunday from Cairo, where he was held for allegedly aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood.

"This is a moment that I've rehearsed in my mind at least 400 times over the past, well, 400 days and it feels absolutely awesome to be here," the 49-year-old said, flashing the victory sign and holding his arms aloft.

“I’ve dreamt about this so many times and the reality is nowhere near what I imagined it to be. It’s so, so much better,” said the award-winning correspondent at his first open press conference since his release.

Mr Greste also urged Egyptian authorities to free fellow Al-Jazeera television colleagues Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed of Egypt.

Both men remain in an Egyptian prison, although Fahmy's family said Tuesday he had renounced his Egyptian citizenship hoping to pave the way for his release.

"But of course this is all tempered... by a real worry for my colleagues for Mohamed Fahmy, for Baher Mohammed, for all the other guys imprisoned alongside us," Greste told reporters at Brisbane airport.

"If it's right for me to be free then it's right for all of us.

"I think that Egypt now has an opportunity to show that justice doesn't depend on your nationality.

"If it's right for me to be free it's right for everyone else," he said."

After his plane landed around 00.30am Thursday (10.30pm on Wednesday Singapore time), Mr Greste first held a private reunion with his mother Lois, father Juris, brothers Andrew and Mike and other relatives before meeting the press.

"My family have been the bedrock throughout all of this," he said referring to a worldwide campaign to free the Al-Jazeera team.

"My family have been absolutely awesome. I couldn't have done this without them.

"All I've done was sit in a cell, write a couple of letters. To celebrate this with them has meant the world."

Mr Greste said his time in jail had been tough physically and mentally but that he and his fellow Al-Jazeera television colleagues had been treated well.“We certainly weren’t abused. We had some – we had access to all of the things that were needed. It was restrictive, I mean, there were things we weren’t comfortable with but then, it’s prison,” he said.“The fact is I’m in pretty good health. There’s no problems that I have in any sense that I’m aware of anyway.“We weren’t abused in any way, we were treated with respect and dignity as much as can be expected under the circumstances. So that was fine.”

However, when asked to describe his living space, he replied: “I’d love to. I’m afraid I can’t. There are all sorts of reasons, I’m afraid on this one I can’t tell you more detail.”

'JOURNALISM IS NOT A CRIME'

A group of supporters and old friends greeted him at airport arrivals, carrying signs saying "Welcome Home Peter" and "Journalism is not a crime".

A beaming Greste shook hands and hugged them.

Since being released, he has repeatedly voiced concern about his Al-Jazeera colleagues still behind bars in Cairo.

"Special thanks to all who've supported us over the past year. MUST NOT FORGET THOSE STILL IN PRISON," the Australian reporter wrote in a tweet before arriving in Brisbane.

He also posted a picture of himself standing in the sea, giving the victory sign, writing: "Free in Cyprus! Feels sweet. Peter back online for first time in 400+ days."

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Wednesday he had spoken to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and thanked him for his efforts to release the journalist.

A statement from the Prime Minister's office said Abbott had "expressed hope that Mr Greste's colleagues Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed might be released soon".

They were arrested at the height of a diplomatic row between Egypt and Qatar, which owns Al-Jazeera.

The broadcaster had criticised the deadly crackdown on Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement following the Islamist leader's overthrow.

Qatar has since moved to repair ties with Egypt, and Al-Jazeera has closed its Arabic-language Egyptian affiliate which backed the Brotherhood.