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Egypt frees Al-Jazeera reporter Greste

CAIRO: Egypt freed and deported Australian journalist Peter Greste on Sunday after more than 400 days following a global outcry over his jailing on charges of backing the Muslim Brotherhood.

Greste, an award-winning correspondent for Al-Jazeera English television, flew to Larnaca in Cyprus with brother Michael after his release from Cairo’s Tora prison, interior ministry and airport officials told AFP.

The reporter was detained along with two colleagues, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and an Egyptian producer, Baher Mohamed, in December 2013 and charged with aiding the blacklisted Brotherhood movement.

Qatar-based Al-Jazeera welcomed Cairo’s decision and expressed hope the other two journalists would soon also be set free.

“We’re pleased for Peter and his family that they are to be reunited,” Mostefa Souag, acting director general of Al-Jazeera Media Network, said in a statement for the pan-Arab television channel.

“We will not rest until Baher and Mohamed also regain their freedom.”.

Fahmy’s relatives expect him to also be deported under a decree passed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi that allows for the transfer of foreigners on trial, but it was not immediately clear when he would be released.

– Immense relief –

The arrest of the three journalists sparked worldwide condemnation with Washington and the United Nations leading calls for their release.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told reporters in Sydney she had spoken to Greste and that he had said “he was immensely relieved… and desperate to come home”.

In his hometown Brisbane, the Greste family were preparing to hold a press conference during the morning.

Greste’s other brother Andrew expressed relief on Twitter, thanking journalists and others who kept pressure on Egypt.

“Without the worldwide support we could not have got through it. @PeterGreste on his way home,” he tweeted.

Greste was in Cyprus where he had been met by consular officials.

“He will make his way home in his own time. He wants a bit of rest and recreation and to be reunited with friends and family as soon as possible,” Bishop said.

Canada said Greste’s release was “positive” and that it remained “very hopeful” that Fahmy would also be freed soon.

The family of their Egyptian colleague Baher Mohamed pinned their hopes for his release on a presidential pardon or his acquittal on appeal.

“I congratulate Greste’s family on his release but I wish my brother Baher was with him,” said his brother Assem.

Australia and Canada have piled pressure on Egypt to release the two, and Sisi had repeatedly said he regretted they had not been deported soon after their arrest.

Their high-profile trial, at which Greste and Fahmy were sentenced to seven years in prison and Mohamed to 10, proved a public relations nightmare for Sisi, who has cracked down on Islamists since toppling president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

The verdict was overturned and a court in January ordered a retrial for the three.

“There is a presidential decision to deport Peter Greste to Australia,” an interior ministry official told AFP minutes before Greste flew out from Cairo.

Amnesty International said Greste’s release should not overshadow the ongoing imprisonment of Fahmy and Mohamed.

“All three men are facing trumped up charges and were forced to endure a farcical trial marred by irregularities,” said Amnesty’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“Continuing to detain Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy is completely unjust and unwarranted.”

– Spat with Qatar –

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a media watchdog, welcomed the release and called on Sisi to pardon and free Fahmy and Mohamed “and the other journalists still behind bars for doing their work”.

Egyptian police arrested the journalists at the peak of a diplomatic row between Cairo and Qatar, which owns Al-Jazeera.

The broadcaster had been critical of the deadly crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement following the Islamist leader’s overthrow.

Qatar has since moved to mend ties with Egypt, and Al-Jazeera has closed its Arabic-language Egyptian affiliate which backed the Brotherhood.

The rapprochement reflected growing international acceptance of the crackdown on Egypt’s Islamist opposition and militants who have killed scores of police and soldiers since Morsi’s overthrow.

The crackdown, which has left at least 1,400 people dead, had tested Egypt’s ties with the United States, which temporarily froze part of its annual $1.3 billion military aid in 2013.

The Brotherhood, once Egypt’s largest political movement and the winner of several elections, denies resorting to violence.

Greste, who turned 49 in jail, worked for multiple news organisations including Reuters and the BBC before joining Al-Jazeera English.

He was the BBC’s Kabul correspondent in 1995 and returned there after the US-led invasion in 2001.

From 2009, he was based in Nairobi, winning the broadcasting industry’s prestigious Peabody Award in 2011.

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