ABC PM, Perth - interview with Mark Colvin

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MARK COLVIN: The Australian journalist Peter Greste and his two Al Jazeera colleagues will be paraded in a courtroom cage in Cairo again in a few hours as the case against them continues.

Last week, in embarrassing scenes for the prosecution, none of its four witnesses could produce any evidence to back the charge that Greste had been a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In Peter Greste's own words, shouted from inside the cage, "We have been three months in prison based on unsubstantiated allegations and conjecture by people who don't seem to understand how we work."

But could tonight's hearing be their last? Could a pardon or an acquittal be on the way?

I was joined a short time ago by the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

JULIE BISHOP: The trial resumes tonight, and I am hopeful that Peter Greste will be acquitted of the charges and released so that we can get him home as soon as possible. Representatives will attend the trial in Cairo criminal court, and as I say, I'm hopeful that he will be released.

We have been making representations at the highest level ever since Mr Greste was detained. And last week I most recently met with the Egyptian deputy foreign minister, who was in The Hague at the same time as I was, and he was very well aware of the case, and I made representations to him directly.

So I am hopeful that we will be able to get Peter Greste released as soon as possible.

MARK COLVIN: I understand that there are reasons for being discrete diplomatically, but there has been criticism that the Government hasn't been doing more megaphone diplomacy, if you like. What's your answer to that?

JULIE BISHOP: I have been making direct and high level representations to a number of other governments in the region and beyond, as part of a, let me put it this way, a multi-pronged strategy to raise our ongoing concerns about the case. But I don't believe it will be helpful for us to raise every aspect of our diplomatic efforts in the media. A number of governments have agreed to assist us, but they do it from the basis that we don't make it public.

Now I respect their request in that regard, but there has been a very positive response, particularly from foreign ministers in the region whom I have contacted and asked to make representations to the Egyptian authorities on our behalf.

MARK COLVIN: So what kind of thing can you tell us about what's going behind the scenes there?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I have raised Mr Greste's case with the Egyptian foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy. I've done that twice by phone. I have spoken with the Egyptian ambassador, the Egyptian ambassador in Australia, and, as I said, I've met with the Egyptian deputy foreign minister.

You would also be aware that our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, spoke to the interim Egyptian President Mansour, on the 27th of March to register the high priority that the Government attaches to the early resolution of the case and Mr Greste's releaseā€¦

MARK COLVIN: But I'm getting the impression from Egypt that one of the problems is that nobody is really in charge, or certainly nobody fully knows who's in charge. How can you be sure that you're talking to the right people, or that if you have spoken to the right people that their messages will, in fact, be passed on and acted on?

JULIE BISHOP: There's no doubt that the situation in Egypt is exceedingly complex. There is an interim government in place. We are aware that there will be elections shortly. But there is still a functioning legal system, although some recent announcements have been deeply disturbing in relation to some of the charges that are being laid against other people.

But I am hopeful, given the representations that we are making and the feedback that I've received, that Peter Greste will be either acquitted of the charges or, through a pardon, he will be released, and I'm hoping that that will occur as soon as possible.

MARK COLVIN: And, in fact, when you say "as soon as possible" how urgent is it, because there's an election coming up in the next few weeks, and after that anything is possible isn't it?

JULIE BISHOP: Well that's why our representations are that he be released as soon as possible after the conclusion of the legal proceedings. It's been made quite clear to us from the outset that the legal processes had to take their course.

Now we could draw parallel with Australia - if someone's been charged then one would expect the legal processes to be able to take their course without political interference. But we have been making representations at the highest level, without criticising the Egyptian legal system, but pointing out that as far as we are aware, Peter Greste was doing his job as a journalist, that the charges should not have been brought.

We're concerned that he has been denied bail and remains in detention and we have pointed out that the Australian Government will take issue with measures anywhere that will restrict freedom of the media. And we've also pointed out that the detention of journalists in this way doesn't support Egypt's claim to be returning to democracy.

So we have made representations at every level - with the Prosecutor, with Ambassadors, with Foreign Ministers, not only in Egypt but around the region and beyond. Egypt has some very close friends in other governments who have more influence over Egypt than we do, a deeper relationship if you like. And we have also been calling upon those governments to assist us, and there's been overwhelming support from a number of governments in assisting us in this way.

MARK COLVIN: The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on a phone from her car; that explains the slightly dodgy reception there and the sounds of indicators clicking you might have heard. She was speaking to me from Perth.

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