BAGHDAD — Egypt freed and deported Sunday one of the Al Jazeera journalists who had been jailed for more than a year in a case that drew international condemnation and sparked a worldwide campaign for their release.
Australian Peter Greste immediately boarded a plane for Cyprus and is in good health, according to a report posted online by his employer, the English-language branch of the Al Jazeera network.
The Qatar-based news organization appealed for the release of the two other Al Jazeera journalists who are still in prison: Baher Mohammed, a producer, and Mohamed Fahmy, the channel’s Cairo bureau chief.
“We will not rest until Baher and Mohamed also regain their freedom,” the network’s acting director general, Mostefa Souag, said in a statement. “The Egyptian authorities have it in their power to finish this properly today, and that is exactly what they must do.”
A statement by Egypt’s Interior Ministry said the cabinet had approved the decision to “extradite” Greste, citing a presidential decree last year permitting the deportation of foreigners convicted of crimes. The statement did not mention Fahmy, an Egyptian-Canadian national, or Mohammed, who is Egyptian.
Reuters, however, quoted an Egyptian security official as saying it was likely that Fahmy would be freed and deported to Canada in the coming days.
The fate of the three Al Jazeera journalists had come to symbolize the severity of the crackdown implemented by President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi in the wake of the 2013 ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood government. Thousands of Brotherhood supporters have been rounded up, hundreds have been fatally shot and hundreds more have been sentenced to death since the military removed President Mohamed Morsi from office in July 2013.
Many of the liberal activists who led the Arab Spring revolution in 2011 have been jailed, and media freedoms have been sharply curtailed.
Greste was arrested with Fahmy in December 2013 in their suite at the Marriott hotel. Mohammed was arrested shortly afterward at his home. All three were charged with colluding with the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
Despite little in the way of evidence, they were convicted by a court last year and sentenced to between seven and 10 years in prison.
Though the reasons for their arrest were never made clear, Egypt’s government has long regarded Al Jazeera as a voice of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has in the past been backed by the Qatari government. The network’s operations in Egypt have been shut down, and seven other journalists and employees have been sentenced to death in absentia.
Journalists around the world joined in appeals for the release of the three, staging demonstrations on numerous occasions to draw attention to their plight. Western governments also condemned the detention of the journalists and sought their release.