A publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

Staying sane in a Cairo jail: Peter Greste keeps himself busy

Jailed Australian journalist Peter Greste is finding solace in meditation, gardening and learning to speak Arabic, as his parents continue to campaign for his release from a Cairo prison where he is serving a seven-year jail term for endangering Egypt’s national security.

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Peter Greste’s parents: Lois and Juris Greste. PIC: ABC

Peter Greste’s parents: Lois and Juris Greste. PIC: ABC

Juris and Lois Greste said their son’s only moments of privacy while incarcerated had been times when he was able to drape a towel to separate himself from his cell mates.

They said the Al-Jazeera journalist began each day by meditating before going through a daily exercise routine. He would then read and teach English to fellow prisoners. He is also learning Arabic. 

Mrs Greste said her son was trying hard to make the best of his situation. 

“He’s even been allowed to start his own herb garden,” she told the closing session of New News 2014, titled: “Justice, Journalism and the Law”.

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Peter Greste was arrested on December 27 last year, after less than two weeks working for the Qatar-headquartered network on a short-term posting. He was jailed along with co-workers Mohammad Fahmy and Baher Mohammad.

Egyptian authorities accused the journalists, as well as several local reporters, of falsifying the news and damaging the nation’s international reputation.

Juris Greste told the weekend audience at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre that journalists needed to be mindful of maintaining the highest reporting standards, and demand higher standards of their profession more broadly, suggesting that his son’s case had been compromised by others’ shoddiness.

“If journalists and journalism were held in higher regard then cases like Peter’s would not happen,” Mr Greste said.

While Mrs Greste praised Al-Jazeera for its support throughout the last several months, she added that it was vital that people understood that her son’s plight was “everyone’s problem” and that “a free press is vital for democracy”. 

She said that her family were grateful for the messages of support they had received.

“Peter’s resilience is boosted by the knowledge that the global public care about him and his colleagues’ plight.”

Joining Greste’s parents via video link were journalists Alan Morison and Chumita Sidasthien, who could face seven years in a Thai prison after being charged with criminal defamation of the Thai Navy over an article they published on their independent website Phuketwan, based in Phuket.

“Peter’s resilience is boosted by the knowledge that the global public care about him and his colleagues’ plight.” — Lois Greste

The story included a paragraph quoting a Reuters report on the persecution of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority to which Thai authorities took exception. Meanwhile, the newsagency’s reporting of the issue would ultimately win a Pulitzer prize.

Morison and Sidasthien remain angry about the lack of support they have received from Reuters, who had co-opted them for some of its reporting.

“Reuters have done nothing,” Morison told New News.

He recalled the five hours he spent in prison “packed in like sardines” alongside 90 other inmates, standing next to a man who had murdered his wife, despite Morison’s only crime having been to try and serve the best interests of the public by telling the truth.

He said it “would be great to have support from Australians and any NGOs from around the world”. 

Supporters of Peter Greste and Alan Morison have urged people to express their support via Twitter — @PeterGreste and @Bigislandmedia .

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