KUALA LUMPUR: Award-winning journalist Peter Greste still vividly remembers his time behind bars in an Egyptian cell when he was charged with spreading “false news” in 2013.
Although it has been almost four years since his release, Greste still clearly recalls the entire ordeal, how he was treated and what it was like to be locked up in an Egyptian prison.
Also accused of helping the banned Muslim Brotherhood, Greste spent 400 days in prison.
The same charges were also levelled against Greste’s Al Jazeera colleagues, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed.
“I was in two police cells before we actually entered the prison system. One cell was a box about eight-feet square, and it had a toilet in one corner and a sink in the other and a door and a tiny little exhaust fan in the corner.
“There were 16 guys in that box. It was unbelievably crowded. And there were a couple of guys who had been in there for about six months, with almost no time out of that at all. It was quite shocking,” he said.
Greste said this during a talk organised by the National Press Club (NPC) at Wisma Bernama today, titled “Investigative Journalism in War Zones”, which was attended by the Malaysian press.
The Sydney-born journalist has spent 25 years reporting on conflict and unrest in some of the world's most unstable countries.
After the September 11 attacks in the United States, Greste went to Afghanistan to provide the BBC’s award-winning coverage of the collapse of the Taliban.
He then relocated to Africa in 2003, reporting from some of Eastern and Southern Africa’s most volatile regions and in 2011, he won a prestigious Peabody Award for a BBC documentary on Somalia.
Later that year, he joined Al Jazeera as its East Africa correspondent and went to Cairo to cover the Christmas and New Year period in 2013.
However two weeks after he arrived, security agents arrested him.
“I was accused of being a member of a terrorist organisation, funding them and broadcasting news for them. I was accused of all those things without even throwing one single grenade or being part of the organisation.
“(The Egyptian government) wanted to intimidate journalists and used the word ‘terrorism’ on us. They use the word and expand it on their own.
“The same narrative has been played out all over the world and they use it to lock up journalists by using the excuse of us harming ‘national security’,” he said.
Greste was released from detention in 2015 after being found guilty in court, and sentenced to deportation.
On Feb 19, 2015, Greste, along with Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, won a special Royal Television Society award for their sacrifices to journalism.
Greste has advocated widely for freedom of the press and free speech and in recognition of his efforts, he was awarded the 2015 Australian Human Rights Medal.