Egypt releases, deports jailed Australian journalist

Cairo: Egypt Sunday decided to release jailed journalist Peter Greste, who will now be deported back to his native Australia, according to media reports. The Egyptian foreign ministry coordinated with the Australian embassy in Cairo for the journalist's release and Greste was supposed to depart for Sydney, a Xinhua report said, citing a source.

Greste, who was freed after reportedly spending 400 days in prison, worked for the Doha-based Al-Jazeera English news channel, along with Egyptian national Baher Mohammed and Egyptian-Canadian Mohammed Fahmy, who are still in jail.

All three journalists were sentenced in June, last year to seven years in prison for aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood group. Mohammed received an additional three-year jail sentence on the separate charge of possessing weapons.

The journalists were arrested in December 2013, during a security raid on a Cairo hotel, from which they had been operating. They were accused of spreading false news that tarnished Egypt's image, while aiding members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

All the defendants denied the charges against them and described their trial as a sham. The arrest and verdict drew intense criticism from Western governments and human rights groups. BBC reported, citing presidential sources, that Fahmy -- one of the two Al-Jazeera journalists still in prison -- would be deported to Canada after his dual Egyptian nationality was dropped.

According to the report, Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi had said in November that he was considering the possibility of granting pardon to the two foreigners, among the three imprisoned Al-Jazeera journalists. He had earlier signed a decree on repatriating foreign prisoners. Then Jan 1, a higher court accepted an appeal filed in favour of the three journalists.

Greste's brother Andrew said in a statement: "We're ecstatic that Peter has been released and we now ask if the world could respect his privacy, to give him time to appreciate his freedom before he faces the media," according to the BBC report. Al-Jazeera tweeted that it welcomed Peter Greste's release and demanded that its two other journalists, Fahmy and Baher, also be freed.

"We're pleased for Peter and his family that they are to be reunited. It has been an incredible and unjustifiable ordeal for them... We will not rest until Baher and Mohamed also regain their freedom," the BBC cited Mostefa Souag, acting director-general of the Al-Jazeera media network, as saying in a statement. Souag added: "The Egyptian authorities have it in their power to finish this properly today, and that is exactly what they must do."

Al-Jazeera's Cairo offices have been closed since July 3, 2013, when the army removed Islamist President Mohammed Morsi following the huge uprising against his one-year rule. Cairo accuses Al-Jazeera of spreading distorted news and pro-Muslim Brotherhood coverage, as well as working against the interests of Egypt.

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