SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia on Tuesday urged Egypt's new leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to issue a presidential pardon for Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste to prove to the world Cairo is on a path to democracy.
Australian Greste and his Al Jazeera colleague, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, were both sentenced to seven years in Jail by a Cairo court on Monday for aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood and "spreading false news". Their producer Baher Mohamed received two sentences - one for seven years and another for three years.
They were among 20 defendants in a trial that has triggered global outrage and fears of growing media restrictions in Egypt.
"There's no doubt that the proceedings in the first place were politically motivated," Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told ABC national radio on Tuesday. "Because this was at a time when the military had taken over the government, the Muslim Brotherhood had been the democratically elected government, and then there was a military coup and the Muslim Brotherhood was deemed a terrorist organisation."
Ms Bishop said she would summon Egypt's deputy envoy in Canberra on Tuesday - the ambassador is currently in Cairo. She also plans to call Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.
"He's apparently travelling outside of Egypt, so we're seeking to make contact with him so that I can register our deep concerns about this case and the verdict," she said. "We're also taking steps to lodge a formal diplomatic-level request of the president, that he intervene in the proceedings at this stage."
She said her understanding was that Mr al-Sisi cannot consider a plea of clemency or a pardon until all legal proceedings have been concluded, and that includes an appeal.
Greste's family are currently considering whether or not to appeal.
"The new Egyptian government has an opportunity to prove to the world that it is on the path to democracy, that it does believe in freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which are the pillars of democracy," said Ms Bishop. "And so we hope that our representations to the new government will see Peter Greste home as soon as possible."
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who spoke to Mr al-Sisi over the weekend urging clemency, said he was "bewildered" at the court decision but said he would not engage in "unhelpful megaphone diplomacy".
"The Egyptian court system does work at arms length from the government, but I do understand that once the court system has done its work then there are options for presidential acts, presidential clemency, presidential pardons and so on," he said.
Since the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, the authorities in Egypt have been incensed by Qatar-based Al-Jazeera's coverage of their deadly crackdown on his supporters. They consider the network to be the voice of Qatar and accuse it of backing Morsi's Brotherhood, while the emirate openly denounces the repression of the Islamist movement's supporters which has left more than 1,400 people dead.