Peter Greste's mum: He's very, very strong
Parents of Australian Al Jazeera journalist, Peter Greste say there are "no words" to describe their reaction to the seven-year sentence handed to Mr Greste by an Egyptian court. Nine News.PT2M52S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-3aq01 620 349 June 24, 2014
An ageing Juris Greste held up a photo to the cameras and said ''this man, our son, is an award-winning journalist, he is not a criminal''.
In a strange and surprising way, this simple parental gesture cut through the ocean of words, the torrent of justifiable outrage, the sheer helplessness of the situation facing the Grestes, whose 48-year-old son Peter, was sentenced on Monday to seven years' jail following a farcical trial in Egypt.
Here was a plain yet intimate truth, its dignity irreconcilable against the court's cruelly impersonal ruling.
Peter Greste's parents Lois and Juris in Brisbane on Tuesday. Photo: Harrison Saragossi
For weeks leading up to his conviction, speculation had it that the al-Jazeera reporter and his colleagues might be acquitted. After all, there had been precious little evidence to support what were clearly ridiculous charges. Australian reporters on the ground in Cairo reflected this local intel in the minutes leading up to the verdict - Greste and his colleagues would likely be admonished and quickly deported.
Modern Egypt, it was argued persuasively, would not risk its international reputation nor its commercial relationships by jailing foreign nationals on trumped-up charges.
But it was wrong. Shell-shocked family and supporters struggled to absorb the decision, as did the Australian government, the Australian media and the Australian people.
Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste in a court in Cairo. Photo: Reuters
An explanation was sought. Somebody had failed. But who? Was it the Australian government?
Despite the terrible result, the answer is no.
Governments must tread carefully in consular matters and cannot be seen to campaign publicly or to openly apply pressure on sovereign countries and their ''independent'' legal systems.
Indeed, such an approach will have the opposite effect.
It is the same the world over when Australian nationals fall foul of authorities and wind up in foreign cells.
And always the plea to Canberra is the same too: do something.
Yet, in reality, there is rarely much that can be done. Australian procedural fairness ends at our borders. For voters accustomed to seeing their politicians trumpeting their achievements, the inherent quietness of effective consular representation by DFAT is often mistaken for inaction.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been as busy as any foreign minister could be in such circumstances, as has her department. Representations have been made both before the recent changeover to the new President, Abdel al-Sisi, and since. But now the game has changed. In the wake of the court's ruling, Tony Abbott has stepped up the public case, telling Parliament that Australia recognised the legitimacy of Egypt and its legal system, but was ''shocked and dismayed by the Greste decision''.
It is a calculated risk but one that has become sadly necessary.