Al-Jazeera English correspondent Peter Greste appears in a defendant's cage in the police institute court house in Tura along with several other defendants during a trial on terror charges, in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, April 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Hamada Elrasam)
Al-Jazeera English correspondent Peter Greste appears in a defendant's cage in the police institute court house in Tura along with several other defendants during a trial on terror charges, in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, April 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Hamada Elrasam) Hamada Elrasam

Peter Greste: Jailing shock 'like round with Mike Tyson'

JOURNALIST Peter Greste will launch a legal appeal against his conviction and seven-year jail term for defaming Egypt and aiding banned Islamists.

Greste has detailed, for the first time, his shock at the sentence.

"It was only once we were back in the confines of our tiny cell that the slow motion shock set in. It was like being punch-drunk, how you might feel after a round with Mike Tyson,'' he wrote.

"There was a nausea, the gasping for air, the shaky knees, the oppressive weight of the concrete and iron cell weighing down on our shoulders with a heaviness we had never felt before.  

"Seven to ten years for crimes we did not commit. But our struggle is not over. Not by a long shot.

"We committed no crime and the world seems to have understood this. So now, we must focus on the next stage in the judicial battleto clear our name and win back our freedom.

"We will appeal. We still remain strong and confident, determined to fight for our cause.  

Greste and two Al Jazeera English news colleagues were sentenced to between seven and 10 years for falsifying news and aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood.

They remain in Cairo's Tora prison.

Greste and one of his jailed colleagues, Baher Mohammed, have released the following statement detailing their reaction to last month's court verdict.

 

Parents of Australian journalist Peter Greste, Lois and Juris Greste
Parents of Australian journalist Peter Greste, Lois and Juris Greste DAN PELED/AAP

 

Reflections on the verdict  by Peter Greste and Baher Mohammed

When Judge Mohammed Nagy handed down his guilty verdict in a packed  court room on June 23rd, it felt as though we had been king-hit; thumped by a right hook that we saw coming out of the corner of our eye, but hardly believed would really land.

And certainly not with the force that it did.

In Egypt's deeply polarised political environment, in which Al Jazeera English is widely and unjustly regarded as hostile to the state, a guilty verdict was always a possibility. But we were also supremely, and perhaps naively confident.

After all, the prosecution had come up with no evidence to substantiate the charges.   

We had been accused of falsifying news; of collaborating with the Muslim Brotherhood to broadcast propaganda; of wrongly presenting Egypt as a nation at war; and of damaging national security. And yet as everyone who observed
the trial acknowledged, there was no evidence of collusion with anyone.

The prosecutor found no false stories; no facts that had been altered; there was no distorted reporting.    

With such a hollow case, and with such vast international focus on the trial and its process, how could there be another outcome but a not guilty verdict?

And yet, in the days leading up to the verdict, we would deliberately suppress that bubbling sense of optimism for a few moments to imagine how it might feel to hear the judge finally declare us guilty. We forced ourselves to contemplate the unthinkable.    

We would be shaking of course. We would be upset and angry, it would be tough to confront more time behind bars. But really, how could that happen even though we knew that a section of Egyptian society was baying for Al Jazeera blood.   

But then the judge announced his decision - guilty with seven years in prison for all but Baher who was given an additional three years for possessing a single bullet collected as a battlefield souvenir from Libya. It was the physicality of the shock that came as such a surprise.   

We heard nothing in the seconds that followed. Others have spoken of the uproar that erupted in the packed court, but all we heard was a stunned silence.  

Then came the numbness - a bizarre sense of unreality, as if we were watching it unfold on TV to a bunch of other poor souls.

Our ears had heard the words; our brains had interpreted them, but our hearts refused to feel them.

It was only once we were back in the confines of our tiny cell that the slow motion shock set in. It was like being punch-drunk, how you might feel after a round with Mike Tyson.

There was a nausea, the gasping for air, the shaky knees, the oppressive weight of the concrete and iron cell weighing down on our shoulders with a heaviness we had never felt before.   

Seven to ten years for crimes we did not commit. But our struggle is not over. Not by a long shot. We committed no crime and the world seems to have understood this. So now, we must focus on the next stage in the judicial battle
to clear our name and win back our freedom. 

We will appeal. We still remain strong and confident, determined to fight for our cause.  

At least part of our strength comes from the understanding that this isn't just about those wrongly convicted in our case. This is about press freedom, about freedom of speech not just in Egypt but globally. 

If the authorities in Egypt can ride out the storm then others can too.

Gratifyingly the world seems to be behind us. Although we have been pretty cut off from the outside world, we get glimpses of the overwhelming and frankly deeply humbling tsunami of support from individuals, human rights organisations, our professional colleagues and governments.

And it has been truly staggering to see how strongly expressed the support has been. 

Institutionally it helps our case in incalculable ways. But at a personal level, it also lifts us, strengthens us, stiffens our determination whenever we feel beaten down by the confines of our prison. 

So to those who have backed us over the past six months; to all those who have signed petitions or Tweeted or sent Facebook messages; to all who joined the protests or written letters to Parliamentarians; to all those who have spoken
about our case and the wider injustice of silencing free expression; to the officials, the foreign ministers and diplomats who released statements calling for our release we'd like to say the most heartfelt "Thank you". 

But we also urge you to continue the debate. Our struggle is not yet over.

Round two is yet to begin. It is a complex legal and political challenge to get our verdict overturned. That is why the global pressure must be maintained. Our case must not be forgotten.

As long as we remain behind bars, all of Egypt's press works with the threat of imprisonment hanging over it, and the nation's fledgling democracy wears a muzzle.  



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