Canberra will apply greater diplomatic pressure on Egypt to free jailed Australian journalist Peter Greste as his family’s hopes of a presidential pardon look grim.
Attorney-General George Brandis says the federal government will make a formal request to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seeking his intervention after Monday’s shock seven-year jail sentence sparked international outcry and condemnation of the north African country.
But late on Tuesday the president dashed hopes of a prompt resolution, declaring Egyptian authorities “will not interfere in judicial matters”.
A government official said President Sisi cannot legally pardon Greste until a final ruling from the appeal court.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott understood the president’s position but added that the Egyptian is a reasonable man.
‘This is someone who does get it when it comes to the ordinary norms of justice and decency,’ Mr Abbott told Sky News.
He said it is important that Australia not resort to outrage when dealing with Egypt on the matter.
‘I don’t believe that loose language or emotive language is necessarily going to get us the right result for Peter Greste.’
Dialogue between the two countries over the court verdict began in Canberra on Tuesday.
With Egypt’s ambassador to Australia currently in Cairo, his deputy, chargé d’affaires Sherif Abdelaziz Bedeir Hussein, was summoned to a meeting with senior diplomats who expressed Australia’s dismay at the sentences handed to Greste and two of his fellow Al Jazeera English colleagues.
Greste’s parents, Juris and Lois Greste, vowed never to give up fighting for their son’s release, indicating a pardon from the head of Egypt’s government is “probably the very first thing” they would consider.
But President Sisi’s more recent statement means the family might have to wait until the lengthy appeal court process has been exhausted before a pardon will be considered.
‘My vocabulary fails to convey just how shattered we are,’ Mr Greste said of his son’s jailing.
Mr Greste said his son had been jailed for upholding the principles of free speech, and that fight must never end.
‘To us, it is not just affecting the Greste family. It is also a slap in the face and a kick in the groin to Australia, as well as all fair-minded people around the world.’
Support for the jailed journalists came from the White House, where the US administration called on the Egyptian government to pardon the men and Secretary of State John Kerry labelled the sentences as ‘chilling and draconian’.
‘We call on the Egyptian government to pardon these individuals or commute their sentences so that they can be released immediately, and grant clemency for all politically-motivated sentences,’ White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
The UK and Netherlands also called in their Egyptian ambassadors to express their outrage.
The International Federation of Journalists says the verdicts and sentences are ‘an outrageous violation of press freedom and they call for global condemnation’.
Greste and two of his network colleagues denied accusations of reporting false news and alignment with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
When they were arrested during a raid on their Cairo hotel in December, the trio said they were just doing their job, reporting on Egypt’s political situation.