CANBERRA, Australia – The father of an Australian journalist jailed in Egypt said his family was stunned by the court’s decision to imprison his son, and Australia’s prime minister vowed his government would work quickly to free the reporter and get him out of Cairo.
Australian Peter Greste was one of three Al-Jazeera journalists, including an Egyptian-Canadian, sentenced by a Cairo court on Monday to at least seven years in prison on terrorism-related charges stemming from an interview with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
Greste’s father Juris Greste told reporters in the family’s hometown of Brisbane on Tuesday that he was in a state of shock and was struggling to think straight.
“We’re not usually a family of superlatives, but I have to say this morning my vocabulary fails to convey just how shattered we are,” Juris Greste told a news conference accompanied by his wife Lois Greste. “You can never prepare yourself for something as painful as this.”
Australia’s Foreign Affairs Department called in Egypt’s charge d’affaires Sherif Bedeir Hussein to make an official objection to the court ruling.
MORE: Australian PM promises to work for jailed reporter’s return
Hussein, the embassy’s first secretary, declined to speak to reporters as he left the 30-minute meeting.
The ambassador, Hassan Hanafy Mahmoud El-Laithy, is currently in Cairo.
“We’re obviously shocked, dismayed, really bewildered by the decision of the court in Egypt,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters.
Abbott said Australia respects the legitimacy of the Egyptian government, its justice system and the need “to crack down on extremism including the Muslim Brotherhood, but … it is important that there be due process, it is important that decisions be made on a fair and just basis.”
“The Australian government will continue to make intercessions at every level with the Egyptian government and elsewhere to try to ensure that Peter Greste and his colleagues are swiftly released,” Abbott later told Parliament.
Abbott said he had a “very constructive discussion” about Greste over the weekend with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
“My understanding is that the Egyptian court system does work at arm’s 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 — that’s why I’m not in the business of being critical of the government,” Abbott told reporters.
Juris Greste described the judgment as “a slap in the face and a kick in the groin to Australia as well as all fair-minded people around the world.”
“Journalism is not a crime, or you should all be behind bars— it’s a simple as that,” he told reporters. “Our son Peter is an award-winning journalist, he is not a criminal.”
Lois Greste said there has been no decision yet on an appeal, but the family was considering all options. The family did not know if their son might be able to be transferred to an Australian prison to serve his sentence.
Peter Greste’s brothers, Andrew and Mike Greste, were in Cairo to hear the decision, but have not yet been allowed to visit their brother, she said.