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Sun 1 Feb 2015 06:21 PM

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Egypt frees Australian Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste, 2 others still held

No official word on the fate of his two colleagues, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian national Baher Mohamed, who were also jailed in the case.

Egypt frees Australian Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste, 2 others still held
Al-Jazeera channels Australian journalist Peter Greste stands inside the defendants cage during his trial for allegedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. (Getty Images)

(Updated 02:09) Al Jazeera journalist
Peter Greste was released from a Cairo jail on Sunday and left Egypt after 400
days in prison on charges that included aiding a terrorist group, security
officials said.

There was no official word on the fate of his two
Al Jazeera colleagues - Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian national
Baher Mohamed - who were also jailed in the case that provoked an international

The three were sentenced to seven to 10 years on
charges including spreading lies to help a terrorist organisation - a reference
to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. One month ago, however, a court ordered
their retrial.

A security official said Fahmy was expected to be
released from Cairo's Tora prison within days. His fiancée said she hoped he
would be free soon and deported to Canada. "His deportation is in its
final stages. We are hopeful," Marwa Omara told Reuters.

Canada's foreign ministry welcomed what it called
positive developments. "We remain very hopeful that Mr. Fahmy's case will
be resolved shortly," it said in a statement.

Many Egyptians see Qatar-based Al Jazeera as a
force set on destabilising the country, a view that has been encouraged in the
local media which labelled the journalists "The Marriott Cell",
because they worked from a hotel of the US-based chain.

Egyptian authorities accuse Al Jazeera of being a
mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Qatar-backed movement which President
Abdel Fattah Al Sisi toppled in 2013 when he was Egypt's army chief.

The timing of Greste's release came as a surprise,
just days after Egypt suffered one of the bloodiest militant attacks in years.
More than 30 members of the security forces were killed on Thursday night in
Sinai, and ensuing comments from Sisi suggested he was in no mood for

The Interior Ministry said on its Facebook page
that Sisi released Greste under a decree issued in November authorising the
president to approve the deportation of foreign prisoners.

Australia's foreign Minister Julie Bishop said
Greste flew to Cyprus from Cairo. "He was immensely relieved and he was
desperate to come home to Australia and reunite with his family," Bishop

She said several governments had raised Greste's
case with Egyptian authorities. "Prime Minister (Tony) Abbott spoke to
President Al Sisi and we had many other governments, including in the region,
make representations on Mr Greste's behalf."

The journalists say they were doing their jobs when
detained. Their imprisonment reinforced the view of human rights groups that
the government was rolling back freedoms gained after the 2011 uprising that
toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Since the army's overthrow of president Mohamed
Mursi of the Brotherhood after mass protests against him, security forces
killed hundreds of Islamists, imprisoned thousands of others and then rounded
up liberal activists charged with protesting without police permission.

Al Jazeera said its campaign to free its
journalists from Egypt would not end until all three were released.

The case has contributed to tensions between Egypt
and Qatar, though speculation had been rising that Saudi mediation had improved
ties, raising the possibility that Sisi would deport or pardon the journalists.

They were detained in December 2013 and charged
with helping "a terrorist group" by broadcasting lies that harmed
national security.

Baher Mohamed was given an extra three years for
possessing a single bullet. If the authorities decide to free him, resolving
his case could be more complex because he does not possess a foreign passport.

"This is what we expected would happen,"
his brother Assem said. "Those who rule the country, this is not the first
time they've done this, there have been foreigners who they have let leave the
country when they were in trouble and their Egyptian colleagues are the ones
who paid the price."

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