Three brothers take top free speech award

The decision by an Egyptian court to once again adjourn the re-trial of television’s “three brothers”, journalists Peter Greste, Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy, came as they were awarded Australia’s top free speech honour. The next hearing is scheduled for 29 August 2015.

Members of the human rights organisation, Liberty Victoria, overwhelmingly nominated the “three brothers”, journalists Peter Greste, Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy for Australia’s top free speech honour. The Voltaire award recognises an outstanding contribution to freedom of speech.

Liberty President: George Georgiou SC, said: “We make this award to acknowledge their courage and persistence in reporting news of the traumatic events in Egypt and the Al Jazeera journalists’ dignified and principled stance in the face of persecution by the authorities and, sadly, the judicial process.”

Called the “three brothers” by Australian Peter Greste, they were jailed on 29 December 2013. Peter Greste was released after 400 days. Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy have been on bail pending a decision. Peter Greste said: “We came to understand that this was about something far bigger than the three of us alone. It was about the universal principles of freedom of expression, about the public’s right to know.”

He spent the first ten days in solitary confinement, allowed out only for interrogations. He and his colleagues were later transferred to a maximum security prison along side some of Egypt's most senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders, locked in their 3m x 4m cell 23 hours a day.

In letters Peter Greste immediately wrote from jail defending himself and his colleagues, he spoke out about the responsibility shared by all committed journalists to report truthfully. He galvanised global support.

Peter Greste’s outstanding career since 1991 saw him covering war in Afghanistan and conflicts throughout Africa and the Middle East. After his arrest he wrote: “As a journalist I am committed to defending a fundamental freedom of the press that no-one in my profession can credibly work without, one that is deemed vital to the proper functioning of any open democracy, including Egypt’s with its new constitution.”

Since being freed Peter Greste has been honoured with awards in London and New York, as well as Australia’s top journalism prize.

Peter Greste is on standby awaiting the outcome of the hearing in Egypt, while his colleagues remain in Cairo.

The keynote speaker at the Award dinner will be Michael Bachelard, Indonesia correspondent for Fairfax Media between 2012 and 2015, and now the Investigations Editor at The Age.  He has won a Walkley Award for business journalism and a Melbourne Press Club Quill prize.

Since 1936 Liberty Victoria has worked to foster a society based on the democratic participation of all its members and the principles of justice, openness, the right to dissent and respect for diversity.

Among past winners  of the Voltaire Award are whistleblower Yu Shu Lipski, Wikileaks and Julian Assange, Get Up!, rights activists Julian Burnside QC and Kate Durham, film critic Margaret Pomeranz, author Arnold Zable and journalists Richard Ackland, Stephen Mayne and Chris Masters.

The award dinner will be on Saturday 12 September, from 7.00pm at the San Remo Ballroom, Carlton.

For comment please contact the Liberty Victoria Office.