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Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste forced to read food labels to avoid boredom in Egypt jail, parents say

April 9th, 2014
02:45 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

Peter Greste, the Al Jazeera journalist who along with two colleagues has been jailed in Egypt since the end of December, suffered such boredom that reading food labels was his only refuge, Greste’s parents told CNN’s Fred Pleitgen, in for Christiane Amanpour.

“Up until a couple of weeks ago, they weren’t even allowed reading material,” Greste’s mother, Lois, said in an exclusive interview. “So to keep themselves occupied, they used anything – off labels, off plastic bottles, and off food containers.”

“They made a mural on the wall, which said ‘Freedom Now.’ Unfortunately, that had to be pulled down because the prison authorities considered that as a slogan.”

“But instead he’s got more creative, and out of foil made a sun with rays that go out to a meter wide. It’s arranged so that the sun hits the foil and lights up the whole of the room. So I think that’s wonderful.”

Journalists' support 'keeps Greste going'

Monday marked 100 days since Greste and his colleagues were arrested in Cairo. They are charged with collaborating with a terrorist organization, which is the designation the government gives the Muslim Brotherhood.

Greste and his colleagues – Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy, who has worked for CNN – vigorously dispute the charges. Journalists around the world, including Christiane Amanpour, have campaigned for the journalists to be freed.

Juris Greste said that his son has taken real encouragement from the support.

“What keeps Peter going is knowing that people like Christiane and other international media are taking an interest in it.”

Just before their interview with Pleitgen, the Grestes spoke with their son on the phone. It was the first time they had spoken, Lois said, in more than a month.

“He sounds good. He sounds bright. He said they have their down days and their good days, like we do. We have had down days and good days too.”

“He was asking about the family and what we had been up to and just a general catch up and chit-chat.”

“And I was very thrilled to hear his voice,” she said with a deep sigh of relief, “and very happy.”

Juris said he was very buoyed to hear his son laugh.

“Anybody who can do that on the eve of a very unpredictable next court case obviously must have it reasonably well together, and I feel very thrilled and very proud about that.”

Greste, Mohamed, and Fahmy are due back in court on Thursday. In past court sessions, prosecutors have presented some evidence against the journalists but did little to explain why everyday broadcast equipment and the defendants' personal belongings would implicate them in any crime.

“My impression is that unless you are disciplined in a physical sense, in a mental sense, in a spiritual sense, it can be very difficult to see it through,” Juris said. “You can easily capitulate and crumble.”

“And we are pleased to know that Peter is certainly very disciplined and strong, and keeping himself very well together.”

For the parents, the months-long ordeal has not been easy, either.

“Really there isn’t a most difficult or an easy day,” Juris said. “And so we are sometimes living not only from day to day, but from moment to moment. And that can be very wearing.”

It took them nearly a week to put themselves “back together again” after being “shattered” by the last court appearance.

“We hope in our hearts that of course it will be all over and Peter will be free. But in our heads we are trying not to expect too much.”

Filed under:  Egypt • Journalism • Latest Episode
soundoff (68 Responses)
  1. ashok

    It is as if Tahrir Square never happened ...

    April 9, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Reply
    • aleh

      You right , Tahrir Square was United States sponsored event , and brought nothing except suffering and destruction to Egypt .

      April 10, 2014 at 1:27 am | Reply
  2. Ahmed Alarabi

    Coup leader is not blamed because he is idiot. But, west is blamed for supporting the coup.

    April 9, 2014 at 5:26 pm | Reply
  3. Frank

    Well Al Jazirah was warned several times for reporting false information. Me as a foreigner living in Egypt was actually in general surprised and shocked by the reports I was following on TV. Many western channels including CNN where reporting misled pictures and reports and I was really surprised by these false reports from previously in my opinion respectable reporters which I liked to watch. Feeling bad about the parents of the Australian reporter but he should stay behind bars for a while, may it will put him on the right path later.

    April 11, 2014 at 2:46 pm | Reply
    • Elhadad

      Frank, you might have been "in your way", Following on TV, but i was living it & as a native i am sure i have better understanding to what was going around. What you are wrongly assuming as " false reports", in my dictionary is called Brown Noseing the local authorities,for reasons you only know! Hey, dont bank on that,trust me. It is more honourable to live as a "free man" ?!

      April 12, 2014 at 8:12 am | Reply
  4. Name*aleksandrs mellins

    Dearest friends Lois and Juris. I send my love to both and to your whole family.I dont know how to express my sympathy for Peteris and anger toward the egyptian ' alegal' and state justice system.
    I pray that very soon there will some change and release is forthcoming. Aleksandrs Mellins, Sel! melbourne. Ar Dievu Draugs.

    July 20, 2014 at 7:41 pm | Reply
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