Dateline looks back at the Greste family's mercy dash to Cairo and their 400 day campaign for Peter's release.
Airdate: 
Tuesday, February 3, 2015 - 21:30

Australian journalist Peter Greste has been released from detention in Egypt after 400 days, with his family specifically thanking SBS reporter Brett Mason for his guidance and support.

As part of the Best of Dateline series, we've updated Brett's report from February 2014 following Peter's brother Andrew as he travelled to Cairo for the first time to visit Peter and lobby for his release.

Brett was with him as he met Egyptian and Australian officials, and as he attended court where Greste unsuccessfully applied for bail.

It was also an agonising time for Greste's family back home in Queensland and New South Wales, as they waited to hear news from Cairo.

Andrew Greste introduces the updated version of the story above, plus follow the latest developments from SBS World News, including the continuing campaign to free Peter Greste's two Al Jazeera colleagues still being held in Egypt.

Following his return to Australia, Peter gave his first Australian TV interview to Dateline's Meggie Palmer...

There's also a video blog below from Brett Mason below talking about the changes in press freedom in Egypt and how they affect journalists working there.

Dateline returned to the story in June 2014, when Peter Greste was sentenced to seven years in jail. Click to watch The Greste Verdict.

And in September 2015, his colleagues Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were pardoned, but Peter says he'll continue to fight to have his conviction quashed.

Video Blog

Brett talks about the changes in press freedom in Egypt and how they affect journalists working there, and he gives more insight into the challenges facing Peter Greste's family.

Related Links

Transcript

For almost two months now, Australian journalist Peter Greste has been locked in a Cairo prison cell, allowed outside for just one hour a day. He's been accused of siding with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood while reporting in Egypt last year for the Al Jazeera TV network. If convicted of the terror charges against him, Peter could remain in jail for seven years. Tonight, Dateline reporter Brett Mason follows Peter's brother Andrew Greste as he travels from Queensland to Cairo in a desperate effort to lobby for his brother's freedom.

REPORTER: Brett Mason

NEWS READER: Peter Greste was one of four of Al Jazeera personnel detained by Egyptian State security overnight, the news network is demanding their immediate release.

LOIS GRESTE, PETER'S MOTHER: I just cannot understand why anybody could imagine that he could be a terrorist.

ANDREW GRESTE, PETER'S BROTHER: If I focus on Peter's situation, where he is and the conditions that he's living in, it would break your heart..

The protesters are making it very clear just how determined they are to continue to defy the government.

ANDREW GRESTE: You name the hot spot that is have occurred in the last 10 or 15 years and he's generally between there at some stage, you know..

PETER GRESTE: Peter Greste, Al Jazeera English, Cairo.

This is the tale of two brothers - journalist Peter Greste, who's behind bars in Cairo, and his younger brother Andrew, making a mercy dash to Egypt to try and help.

ANDREW GRESTE: And he thought that it was a fairly mundane posting that would be fairly quiet over the Christmas period. So little did he know he became the main story there.

KATE: Can you give these to uncle Peter.

ANDREW GRESTE: Sure, I hope I can, Kate. I'm sure he'll appreciate those.

Before Al Jazeera English, Peter had worked for the BBC and CNN as a foreign correspondent, where his work was internationally acclaimed.

ANDREW GRESTE: That's all the paperwork I'm taking. Yes, yes. Plenty of information there to read. Might give Mum and Dad a ring, hey? Got any last-minute instructions?

REPORTER: Why not.

LOIS GRESTE: You give Peter a big hug from us and, you know, let him know how much he's loved by the whole family.

ANDREW GRESTE: He's my brother and family. So, you know, he's, he means everything. And, you know, we'd drop anything for family.

I flew with Andrew to Egypt - his first trip to the Arab State.

ANDREW GRESTE: When I landed in the airport, thinking, "Well, this is the city where it all went down," you know.

REPORTER: You're a cotton farmer turned diplomat turned media personality, I guess.

ANDREW GRESTE: I never thought I'd be travelling to Cairo to visit Peter in jail. I've visited him in numerous other places that he's been stationed in, but I've never visited him in jail.

His arrest was announced to Egyptians like this: state TV broadcast this video, complete with ominous music. It shows Peter and his colleague Mohamed being questioned and then detained in their Cairo hotel room. He's accused of conspiring with the Muslim brotherhood, aiding a terrorist group and working without a permit - all charges he denies. Peter's locked up here in Cairo's notorious Torah prison. Former president Hosni Mubarak is one of many political prisoners who have been held behind these walls. There's not enough food or supplies for the thousands of inmates, so Peter has to buy his own.

ANDREW GRESTE: Well, I just found out that I've been granted a prison visit tomorrow morning at 8 o'clock.

A surprise that sends Andrew on a frantic, late-night shopping trip.

ANDREW GRESTE: He requested a new pair of all-white running shoes and a white fleecy jumper. Can you do any better than that? These are the things that I'm taking into prison today. I've got a blank notebook and pen there, I mean, I'll try my luck with that. I don't know how I'll go. And there's a - there's two notes here from his nieces back in Brisbane.

REPORTER: He'll be pretty happy to see those, I'd imagine.

ANDREW GRESTE: Yeah, I reckon. I've also got the world famous Australian Tim Tams.

REPORTER: Are you nervous about it?

ANDREW GRESTE: A little bit, yep, for sure. I'm sure it's going to be confronting. I think I'm prepared for that. I want to be strong for him, so I don't want to go to pieces.

REPORTER: Hi, mate. How did you go?

ANDREW GRESTE: Bloody hell.

REPORTER: It was pretty full-on?

ANDREW GRESTE: Yeah, yeah, it was. They didn't allow those two letters. Those two little - you know, the notes that - no, they - I said, "Look-mate, they're from a seven and a 10-year-old girl. There's nothing." And he just said, "Nup. That's just the rule." He's only allowed out one hour a day. He's in a cell with his two other colleagues. There's a couple of tank guys with guns everywhere and he reassured me that he's holding up, you know, emotionally, physically, mentally. They're doing fine. They will come out of this as the day they went in. You know there's these blue prison vans driving in and out of the place and it is, it's just like -- just like I was on a movie set.. He's given me a bag of washing, in other kind of circumstances, I would have told him where to put it, but I guess that's just the - you know, the reality of being in prison in Cairo.

NEWS READER: The issue of freedom of speech in Egypt is under the spotlight...

The reality of having a brother behind bars for years is not one Andrew wants to consider. So he's hard at work spreading the message of his brother's plight.

ANDREW GRESTE: Yeah, I'm not an expert in international law or diplomacy, or media, or anything like that so all of it's a bit nerve-racking.

LAWYER: These is the accusations against them.

His Egyptian lawyers are arguing police have no case against Peter. They say key facts in the evidence brief are wrong.

LAWYER: His age - 57. Australian, nationality.

ANDREW GRESTE: 57?

LAWYER: Yes.

ANDREW GRESTE: He's not 57. Of course I'm missing home. I'm other here on different circumstances that is for sure. It certainly hasn't been a holiday.

The media cameras are a big problem in courts in Egypt at the moment, in fact we had to get not one but two pieces of paper in order to just get inside and what we're hearing now from the camera crews who are waiting for us to arrive is that the police and military are not allowing them to do any filming at all even though we have these permits. So it could be quite a chaotic scene waiting for Andrew when he pulls up outside of court.

ANDREW GRESTE: You know, we've been assured that it's going to be a fair and open trial and we'll let Peter's performance and credibility speak for itself.. The interest, I - back up, back up, OK.

REPORTER: Are you happy though to see this level of interest in Peter's case?

ANDREW GRESTE: I think it's - you know we knew it was a high-profile case and obviously by the level of interest, it is. There's no denying that, yeah.

REPORTER: How is the heartbeat?

ANDREW GRESTE: You can probably see it beating. . Can I just get a bottle of water or something?

REPORTER: Rammy, can we get some water? Can you grab a bottle of water for Andrew.

Amidst all the chaos at court, a moment for Andrew to meet the family of his brother's co-accused and Al Jazeera colleagues.

MAN: He came especially from Australia. We are really waiting for you because we feel uneasy for Peter all the time.

HEATHER ALLAN, AL JAZEERA: I'm impressed by the whole Greste family. I think he's displaying the same spung that his parents show and he's very like Peter. And Peter is an extraordinary human being and he's an extraordinary journalist. So it doesn't surprise me. He's done really well. He's walking a mile in his brother's shoes..

REPORTER: Have you ever seen so many cameras before in your life?

ANDREW GRESTE: No, I haven't. And I've just never been in a media scrum before and it's pretty confronting. And I've got the shakes.

REPORTER: Seeing him in prison white in a cage must have been a pretty overwhelming moment.

ANDREW GRESTE: It was shocking, you know. How you expect animals to be treated. A lot of that yelling and shouting was after I got marched down in front of the bench. I was a worried for a minute there we might have had two Greste... I was worried as well. He didn't have a translator. The only thing I could think of was write him a note. I held it up and then, next thing I know, I'm surrounded by court officials and police. Apparently I potentially was in contempt of court and could have been detained. Anyway, I got through it.

REPORTER: You said to me when we first met that you're not a big fan of the camera, but it's something you feel you have to put up with, I guess, to help your brother out?

ANDREW GRESTE: For sure, I will do basically anything, I guess. Yeah, I'm just super proud of him and realised how bloody strong a character he is and hope that I've got, you know, an ounce of what he's got. I remember there have been a couple of times when it almost broke me, I guess, I've had a little moment myself. He doesn't deserve to be where he is.

MARK DAVIS: Brett Mason reporting there. And Peter Greste is due back in court next week. Peter's family is on Twitter now to read your comments and to join in the discussion. On our website, Brett Mason has a video blog on the challenges now facing journalists working in Egypt. That's on our website.


Reporter/Camera
BRETT MASON

Producer
MEGGIE PALMER

Fixer
RAMY FRANCIS

Additional Camera
HANY TALAAT

Editor
MICAH MCGOWN

Additional footage courtesy of the Greste Family, Al Jazeera English and BBC World News

25th February 2014