Egypt: Australian Al-Jazeera reporter leaves country after release from prison

CAIRO — Al-Jazeera English reporter Peter Greste left Egypt on Sunday on a flight to Cyprus after being released from prison, following an apparent approval of the Australian journalist’s deportation from the country’s president, officials said.

A Cairo airport official said Greste is on an EgyptAir flight to Larnaca, Cyprus that took off shortly after 4 p.m. (1400 GMT) on Sunday.

Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were sentenced to at least seven years in prison on terrorism-related charges last year in a trial described as a sham by rights groups.

There was no immediate word on the other two journalists.

Earlier, an Egyptian prison official and the nation’s official news agency said Greste was released after more than a year behind bars following a presidential “approval.”

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Al Jazeera said in a statement that Greste’s release is not enough.

“We will not rest until Baher and Mohamed also regain their freedom,” Mostefa Souag, acting Director General of Al Jazeera Media Network said. “The Egyptian authorities have it in their power to finish this properly today, and that is exactly what they must do.”

There had been speculation the three might be released last weekend as part of pardons expected to mark the fourth anniversary of the Jan. 25, 2011 uprising in Egypt that ousted longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

But the weekend passed without the expected release of prisoners.

Fahmy and his colleagues were arrested on Dec. 29, 2013 while working for Al Jazeera English. After their trial, Fahmy and Greste were sentenced to seven years in prison, while Mohamed was sentenced to 10 years.

A retrial was ordered following an appeal last month.

Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has also announced a new decree that gives him the power to deport foreigners convicted or accused of crimes — an avenue which would only apply to Fahmy and Greste.

The prospect of pardon, however, has always been an option which could result in the release of all three journalists.

Foreigh Affairs Minister John Baird John Baird raised Fahmy’s case with his Egyptian counterpart during a visit to Egypt.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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