In late December 2013, Al-Jazeera English journalists Peter Greste (Australian), Mohamed Fahmy (Canadian-Egyptian) and Baher Mohamed (Egyptian) were arrested for doing their jobs. Peter Greste was in an Egyptian prison for 440 days, and I followed coverage of that imprisonment from around day two.
I recall coverage was quiet for a while in Australian media, but for the ABC’s Mark Colvin and Hamish Macdonald tweeting. Most Australians were enjoying their Summer holiday break, or watching Australia play, beat, England in the Boxing Day Test. Peter wasn’t normally based in Egypt – he was only meant to be there a few weeks to cover a colleague’s Christmas break.
Then the story became bigger in Australia. Internationally, it was turbo-boosted by the media machine of Al-Jazeera, and others like the BBC. The media connections may have had a role as to why the men were in prison; the connections were also an advantage in maintaining profile and pressure in relation to the case.
We became familiar with the #FreeAJStaff hashtag, Peter’s brothers Michael and Andrew, and his parents Lois and Juris. We heard from journalist Rena Netjes (Netherlands) who was among 20 journalists facing charges of spreading false news and involvement in alleged terror plot; she had managed to escape Egypt to safety but not the charges.
During the 440 days, I watched each time the white-shirted Greste, Mohamed and Baher were presented to the court – it was usually frustrating, and at times, farcical. But at least we got to see the proceedings. And the media connections meant there was no shortage of international correspondents in the courtroom.
On 23 June 2014, SBS reported, ‘Journalists at the trial say today is the biggest turnout of diplomats and media they have seen so far with at least 150 people present and around 20 cameras’.
At the first #AJTrial verdict there were four Ambassadors – the 23 June courtroom (the thirteenth hearing) had ambassadors from Australia, UK, Netherlands and Latvia present. After that hearing, where the three were each sentenced to seven years in jail, Australia’s then-foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said Australia was shocked at the verdict.
The then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott spoke direct to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi about the trial – not a common occurrence for a single court case. For the #AJRetrial verdict there was Amal Clooney. In a time of fast new cycles, this story didn’t fade.
Today marks two years that Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert has been in prison in Iran. I often think of the differences in the cases, and how so often in this scenarios, good or bad luck, and bigger circumstances, play a role.
We never saw Kylie’s court trial televised on a global news network – we didn’t get to see how she was coping. While university institutions and colleagues campaign on social media (@FreeKylieMG) and occasional prime-time television, her case does not have the profile; although she too was arrested for just doing her job.
Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer in Middle Eastern studies at the University of Melbourne, was arrested in September 2018 at Tehran airport as she was leaving Iran after attending an academic conference. She was subsequently tried and sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage, charges rejected by Australia as baseless.
Today Kylie’s friends, family and supporters have organised virtual run to raise awareness and acknowledge her choice of activity during her precious exercise time in prison. You can join using #WeRunWithKylie.
As we know, the three Al-Jazeera English journalists were freed. First Peter, and then Mohamed and Baher. Peter tweeted this photo of him from the beach after his release. Here’s hoping we get to see Kylie celebrating on a beach, or running freely, somewhere soon.