David Stuart

Greste: prison was a 'rebirth' and 'near-death experience'

"WE are not going through this again."

Even before he opened his mouth, Peter Greste and the throng of journalists, photographers and camera operators knew he was in trouble.

His mother Lois Greste delivered a strong reprimand as the freed Al Jazeera journalist yesterday re-iterated he was not about to give up the job that landed him in an Egyptian jail for 400 days.

"Oh dear, I know what's coming," Mrs Greste remarked with a wry grin.

Telling his mother to "close (your) ears", Greste said: "I don't want to give this up, my job up. I'm a correspondent, it's what I do."

While not happy with the comment, Mrs Greste said her son had her unwavering support.

"We've always believed our children should follow their passion ... at the same time he's got to know that we are not going to go through this again," she said.

 

Greste was on a temporary assignment for Middle Eastern news service Al Jazeera in December 2013 when he was arrested.

Looking remarkably relaxed and grinning from ear to ear, Greste's happiness at being back in the arms of his family was palpable at a media conference yesterday in Brisbane.

"It is incredible to be here," he said.

"I've dreamt about this so many times and the reality is nowhere near what I imagined it to be - it is so so much better."

Greste's smile faded only when speaking about the plight of his Al Jazeera colleagues Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed who remain in Cairo's Tora prison.

"We'll see them out," he said.

Surrounded by his parents Juris and Lois and brothers Andrew and Mike; Greste said the day he was sentenced to jail was "the toughest".

"I don't think anyone, certainly none of us, expected it," he said.

"But then, as now, we were confident of our position, of our innocence, and we were confident that the process, if it was followed through to its logical conclusion, could only see us freed."

He said going to prison was both a "rebirth" and a "near-death experience".

 

David Stuart

He said his jailers treated him with respect and he focused on staying strong through exercise, study and meditation.

"Incarceration at the best of times is always going to be a pretty difficult experience," Greste said.

"We needed to prepare for the long haul.

"To get through it you need to be fit - that's not just physically fit.

"It meant staying mentally fit, intellectually fit and spiritually fit and so I and my colleagues made deliberate efforts to stay physically fit ... we kept ourselves healthy."

Surviving 400 days in Cairo's Tora prison needed more than strength - often Greste's thoughts would turn to happy times with his family.

"You always have your dark days and I often closed my eyes and just let my mind drift to where it wanted to go and almost invariably it went to the beach, to the coast, to the sea in some form," he said.

"Me and Andrew, Mike and my sisters-in-law, we all went sailing in the Whitsundays in 2013 and I always went back to those days on the boat wandering along the beach, beach-combing, swimming and so on, so to stand there and feel it between your toes was awesome."

"The thing about this is you realise how important those little things are.

 


"I didn't see a whole lot of sunsets in the last 400 or 500 days or so."

There was a massive global outpouring of support from strangers, media and leaders, with many using the phrase "journalism is not a crime" to lobby for his release, over the past year.

More than 200,000 people signed internet petitions calling for his freedom.

It's an "overwhelming" response that Greste said he still didn't fully comprehend.

"These guys (his family) kept telling me 'you don't understand. You just don't get it. You can't possibly conceive of it,' and I realised that I had no idea ...," he said.

"This has been an extraordinary odyssey for everyone - my family, our supporters.

"I really want to thank everyone who has been involved in this campaign - who has been supporting us.

"The many hundreds of thousands of people - from the ordinary members of the public who joined the campaign, who supported us on Twitter and Facebook, who went out on marches and demos, to the diplomats and politicians."

Hoping to fade from the spotlight, Greste said he was considering a couple of projects as he prepared to focus on the simple things in life including shouting his family drinks for the next year and getting his fill of sunsets and waves. 

 

Concern for colleagues

PETER Greste says the joy of being free after 400 days behind bars is tempered by the plight of his Al Jazeera colleagues Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed.

They remain in jail for broadcasting "live news harming domestic security" and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt's president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered Greste's deportation late last week after the Court of Cassation granted the trio another trial and therefore changed their legal status.

There is hope Canadian-Egyptian Fahmy will win his freedom soon but Mohamed faces a tougher fight because he is an Egyptian national.

"You can imagine, after 400 days in prison with these guys, we're very close and it was very difficult to leave them behind," Greste said.

"But I'm grateful to be out - I trust that they will follow in due course.

"It's going to take some further efforts but we'll see them out and when we do I'm going to have a party with them very, very hard indeed." 

Peter Greste poses for photographers outside Brisbane International Airport.
Peter Greste poses for photographers outside Brisbane International Airport. David Stuart

GRESTE QUOTES

"I didn't see a whole lot of sunsets in the last 400 or 500 days or so." - PETER GRESTE

"We are not going through this again." - Lois Greste to her son Peter on his ambitions to continue his career as an international correspondent.

"We really are thrilled that he's back home." - TONY ABBOTT

 

TIMELINE

Peter Greste was born in 1965.

He graduated from the Queensland Institute of Technology in 1986.

Greste, producers Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed and cameraman Mohamed Fawzy were arrested in December 13 in Egypt for broadcasting "live news harming domestic security" and "supporting the Muslim Brotherhood".

Fawzy was released days later but the others were sentenced to seven years jail following an internationally condemned trial.

Greste received the Walkley Award for Outstanding Contribution to Journalism in December.

Egyptian Court of Cassation ordered the trio face a retrial on January 1.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi late last week ordered Greste's deportation under a new law allowing foreign prisoners to be deported.

Canadian-Egyptian Fahmy and Egyptian national Mohamed remain in jail.



Westlawn hoping for just rewards on pitch

premium_icon Westlawn hoping for just rewards on pitch

Tigers playing good football but yet to come up with win

FBI intervenes after Ballina man's mass shooting threat

premium_icon FBI intervenes after Ballina man's mass shooting threat

A soured international love triangle led to threats

Trainer says horse left "traumatised" after sex act

Trainer says horse left "traumatised" after sex act

31-year-old man convicted of animal cruelty

Local Partners