Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Speak out for Peter Greste

People in the Goulburn Valley with connections to Peter Greste have echoed the worldwide condemnation over the journalist's jail sentence.

JOHN LEWIS June 25, 2014 3:52am

Al-Jazeera English producer Baher Mohamed, acting Cairo bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy and correspondent Peter Greste. Picture: AP Photo/Heba Elkholy, El Shorouk

The jailing of Australian journalist Peter Greste in Egypt has brought strong reaction from family friends and former colleagues in the Goulburn Valley.

Mr Greste and two Al Jazeera colleagues were sentenced to seven years in jail on Monday for supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood, and reporting false news.

The jail terms have attracted condemnation in Australia and across the world.

Nathalia artist Bill Kelly, a friend of Mr Greste’s father Juris, said he was appalled by the sentence.

‘‘Juris is a man of considerable conscience and grace. For his family I feel greatly saddened,’’ Mr Kelly said.

Mr Kelly, who has just returned from speaking on social justice and human rights issues at Oxford and Cambridge universities in the United Kingdom, said democratic people and governments must make their voices heard.

‘‘When governments want to control people, the first thing to go is free speech. In the world of journalism and the arts, people do get silenced, and it is now our time to speak out on their behalf and to our government as forcefully as possible. Because it is an outrage,’’ Mr Kelly said.

Sydney-born Mr Greste began his journalism career in the mid-1980s at Shepparton’s GMV6 television station.

Shepparton’s Geoff Vallance, who hired Mr Greste, called the sentence ‘‘atrocious’’.

He said Mr Greste was known as a decent, hardworking journalist who excelled at local news reporting.

‘‘It was his first job and he was very conscientious. To see him in this situation now is a great shame,’’ Mr Vallance said.

Mr Vallance said he had visited Egypt twice in the 1990s and had encountered limited press freedom.

‘‘It’s very different to the way we operate. They’re hands were tied, they weren’t free at all,’’ he said.

Former GMV6 colleague, now Shepparton-based ABC journalist Jan Deane, remembered Mr Greste as a popular, friendly young reporter in his 20s.

‘‘It’s scary stuff that you could be jailed for just doing your job. I’m really shocked,’’ Ms Deane said yesterday.

Mr Greste’s parents, Brisbane-based Juris and Lois, have said they may seek a pardon from Egypt’s new president, fearing a legal appeal could take too long.

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,’’ Mr Greste said.

For more, see today's Shepparton News.

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