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Mon 23 Jun 2014 11:46 AM

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Australian PM lobbies for Al Jazeera journalist's release

Tony Abbott reportedly spoke to Egypt's newly elected President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi over the weekend about Australian Peter Greste.

Australian PM lobbies for Al Jazeera journalist's release
(Getty Images)

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has used a phone call to Egypt's newly elected President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi to lobby over the release of Australian Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste, it was reported.

An Egyptian court will rule on Monday in the case of Greste and his Al Jazeera colleagues, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and producer Baher Mohamed, who are on trial for aiding members of a "terrorist organisation" in a case that has raised questions over Egypt's respect for freedoms of expression, Reuters reported.

The trio are being tried with 17 others on charges of "spreading false news" and having Brotherhood links and detained for nearly six months.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he spoke to Al Sisi over the weekend, Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported.

"I assured him - as a former journalist myself - that Peter Greste would have been reporting the Muslim Brotherhood, not supporting the Muslim Brotherhood," Abbott told the Seven Network on Monday.

Abbott said the president understood Australia's position.

"I think he understands that this would be a PR coup for the new government if Peter Greste is not dealt with severely," he said.

"I made my point. I made it as clearly as I could."

It follows similar lobbying by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who spoke with her recently appointed Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukri over the weekend.

In Canberra, parliamentarians made a bipartisan plea for Greste's release.

Greste's two brothers will be in court for Monday's ruling. They said the family has been through agony since he was arrested in December.

"It's unthinkable for us to expect anything other than an acquittal," Mike Greste has told the ABC.

"All our lives have basically been put on hold for the last six months while we try to concentrate our efforts on securing Peter's release and supporting him as best we can."

Al Jazeera says only nine of the 20 defendants are on its staff, including two foreign reporters who are abroad. A Dutch journalist, who is not working with the channel, is also among the defendants.

US Secretary of State John Kerry also called for freedom of the press to be upheld in Egypt as he made a surprise visit to Cairo on Sunday.