Channel NewsAsia

Greste release would be PR coup for Egypt, says Australia

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Monday said he told Egypt's new leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi it would be a public relations coup if detained journalist Peter Greste avoids a severe sentence.

SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Monday said he told Egypt's new leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi it would be a public relations coup if detained journalist Peter Greste avoids a severe sentence.

A Cairo court is due Monday to issue its verdict in the trial of Al-Jazeera journalists accused of aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood.

Australian Greste and two other reporters working for Qatar-based Al-Jazeera English are among the 20 accused in a trial that has triggered international outrage amid fears of growing media restrictions in Egypt.

They are accused of "spreading false news", with Egyptian prosecutors demanding the maximum penalty of 15-25 years in jail for all defendants.

Abbott spoke with Sisi over the weekend and said he was encouraged by their conversation.

"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.

"Because that's what Australian journalists do."

Abbott said the president understood Australia's position.

"I have to say it was a very generally encouraging conversation," he added.

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

"I made my point, I made it as clearly as I could and I think he understood me -- in fact I am sure he understood me.

"This is, sure, a general but a general who has studied in both the United States and the United Kingdom so he is certainly someone who is familiar with the rule of law and the ordinary norms of justice."

Of those on trial, 16 are Egyptians charged with joining the Brotherhood, which was designated a "terrorist" organisation in December during the intensifying crackdown that followed the army's overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July.

Four foreigners, including Greste, are charged with "spreading false news" and collaborating with and assisting the Egyptian defendants in their crimes by providing media material, as well as editing and publishing it.

Nine of the 20 defendants are in custody, with the rest being tried in absentia.

During the hearings, Greste and his co-defendants have denounced the trial as "unfair and political", charging that the evidence against them had been "fabricated".

Tweet Photos, Videos and Update on this Story to  #cna